Malawi—What’s Happening There Now?
WHENEVER Malawi is mentioned anywhere in the world, the question is often asked: What’s happening to Jehovah’s Witnesses there? The reason is that, in recent years, Jehovah’s Witnesses have been the target of savage persecution in Malawi. The Report on Torture, published by Amnesty International in 1973, explains:
“Well-substantiated reports indicate that both in 1967 and in 1972 the Young Pioneers [the youth wing of the Malawi Congress Party (MCP)] and their supporters inflicted torture on the Jehovah’s Witnesses in the form of rape, beatings, shaving with broken bottles, and burning. In the autumn of 1972 these persecutions caused a number of deaths and the migration of some 21,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses to Zambia, where several hundred died in an inadequate refugee camp.”
When expelled from this camp in Zambia in December 1972, many Witnesses suffered brutal treatment on being returned home to Malawi. So, eventually, refugee camps were established across the border in Mozambique. Well over 20,000 Witnesses came to live in these camps from early 1973 to August 1975. Then a change occurred, as a more recent report of Amnesty International tells:
“In June 1975 the FRELIMO government took power in Mozambique, and shortly thereafter, a number of highly placed officials in the FRELIMO government began to attack the Jehovah’s Witnesses . . . Probably as a result of this the refugee camps in the Vila Coutinho/Mlangeni area appear to have been closed during the month of August. From independent witnesses, Amnesty International knows that Jehovah’s Witness refugees in large numbers were seen on the Malawi Mozambique border in late August , apparently confused as to where to go next.”
Last year, shocking atrocities were committed on a massive scale against these Witnesses as they were forced to return to their homes in Malawi. Newspapers world wide began carrying reports about this. Malawi government officials denied these reports, or claimed that they were exaggerated. But what are the facts?
The facts are that scores of these atrocities were documented. The names of the Witnesses brutalized, the identity of their attackers and the places where these things occurred were supplied.* Commenting on the London Observer headline article about these atrocities, R. E. S. Cook, in a letter to the Observer, stated:
“Colin Legum’s article last week concerning reported atrocities against Jehovah’s Witnesses in Malawi came as no great surprise to me. Similar reports reached the British Press a few years ago. At that time I was working in Malawi. My experiences then leave me in no doubt, first, that the present reports are substantially accurate, and secondly that now—as before—nothing officially will be done to assist these harmless and defenceless people.
“That persecution was taking place I was able to verify from Malawi Government files (monthly reports by District Commissioners to the Office of the President). That nothing officially would be done to assist the Witnesses became clear from the largely meaningless proceedings of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, whose annual conference was then being held in Malawi. I attended it as an interested spectator and on several occasions had the opportunity of speaking with delegates. In private the persecution of the Jehovah’s Witnesses was a major talking-point, but in public in the conference hall it was never mentioned.”—December 14, 1975.
Theodore C. Pinney was principal of Bunda College of Agriculture in Malawi in the early 1970’s. He himself saw Jehovah’s Witnesses taken away to prison, some of whom were his personal friends. Then one morning in November 1972 he was asked to come to look behind his campus residence. There he found the bodies of six men and one woman, horribly mutilated. Malawi Congress Party men told him that they were Jehovah’s Witnesses.
This was too much for him, and so he protested these atrocities in person to the president of Malawi, Dr. Banda, doing so on more than one occasion. As a result, he was deported in December 1972. In a letter this spring Pinney explained:
“When the persecution becomes official government policy, when one is instructed from the Regional Minister’s office to dismiss all employees and students who are Jehovah’s Witnesses, and then the blood is spattered over the campus because one was slow to obey, it is no longer possible to remain quiet about these things.”
This harassing and persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses, with the support of the Malawi Congress Party and government officials, is still continuing. On February 20, 1976, U.S. Congressman from Massachusetts Paul E. Tsongas wrote a constituent: “I requested and received a report from the African desk at the State Department which would appear to confirm the news reports and the articles in [the Watch Tower publications].”
The South Africa Rand Daily Mail, May 26, 1976, says: “The persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Malawi is perhaps the saddest aspect of Banda’s rule. They have withstood almost nine years of vicious persecution in defence of their faith. There are hundreds of well-authenticated cases of vicious torture, cruel beatings and sexual assault by the thugs of the Young Pioneers.”
In a letter to Arthur Dritz of New York, dated June 14, 1976, Bruno Kroker, Senior Press Officer of the World Council of Churches, wrote:
“We have researched the reports about the persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Malawi. You will understand that the World Council of Churches cannot immediately act on reports, whether published or verbal, without checking them through its own sources.
“The confirmation we have received after many delays proved indeed disturbing and the General Secretary, Dr. Philip A. Potter, has written a personal letter to Dr. H. Kamuzu Banda, President of Malawi.”—See pages 8 and 9 of this magazine.
Why This Persecution?
But why has Malawi mounted this sustained persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses?
It is because Jehovah’s Witnesses refuse to buy the Malawi Congress Party card. This card declares the holder to be a member of the ruling political party of Malawi. But for Jehovah’s Witnesses to buy a political card and thus join a political party would be an open denial of what they believe and stand for.
Jesus Christ said of his followers: “They are no part of the world.” And he told a first-century political ruler: “My kingdom is no part of this world.” (John 17:16; 18:36) Therefore, Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that joining a political party is wrong for them. They are not being obstinate or unreasonable. They would gladly buy an identification document, or even a card that declares them to be tax-paying citizens of the country.
Do you feel that it is right for Malawi party officials to use murderous force to try to coerce people to violate their Bible-trained consciences by joining a political party? Was it right for the Roman Empire to insist, under penalty of death, that early Christians put a pinch of incense on the altar as a sacrifice to the emperor? Nations that grant freedom of worship do not do such things. But Malawi, despite its profession of granting its citizens freedom of worship, is resorting to atrocities in its efforts to force Jehovah’s Witnesses to take part in politics.
The Continued Persecution
The principal prison in which Jehovah’s Witnesses have been confined since their return from Mozambique is called Dzaleka. It is located near Dowa, north of Lilongwe. Notes smuggled out of there tell of terrible suffering.
“Even though one is very sick he or she is forced to go to work,” a Witness in Dzaleka wrote on the only writing material available, some toilet paper. “Sick children are sent to Dowa hospital . . . They do not take care of patients who are Jehovah’s people. We call Dowa hospital a butchery of Jehovah’s people. They provide full treatment for those sick who have cards of M.C.P. [Malawi Congress Party].”
Another note on a scrap of cement packaging was received in April of this year. It says that, of the Witnesses in Dzaleka, seventy have died—sixty-five children and five adults. Nevertheless, the note adds: “Pleasant news. Brothers and sisters all very happy faces although persecuted and carrying stones,” evidently as part of their forced labor.
Despite the hard conditions, the Witnesses have arranged to carry on their Christian meetings in prison. A Witness writes: “Everybody now is strong in the faith. We arranged to have three meetings every week. We conduct the meetings in the cells where the men are kept. We have arranged for Sister ‘X’ to take charge of the [meetings of the] sisters.”
Even the Memorial of the death of Jesus Christ was celebrated in small groups in Dzaleka. A Witness reports: “Almost every cell sang songs before the talk and they did so after the assembly. . . . Sure you can be pleased to hear that 1,601 attended the assembly on our lovely day April the 14th, and that over 13 partook of the emblems.”
Evidently most of the Malawian Witnesses are not in prison. Many have fled to other countries, where their Christian brothers have kindly helped them. One person who fled is Brother ‘Y.’ He had belonged to a congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses at Monkey Bay, Malawi, before fleeing to Mozambique in 1972. From southern Africa, where he fled, he writes, in a letter dated June 6, 1976:
“In 1975 we were forced by the Malawi government to go back to Malawi from Mozambique. When we reached Malawi they started persecuting us. But I survived because my village headman did not report to the persecutors about me. But it was of no use because I could not go to buy or to fetch water, so I decided to leave.”
On the other hand, in some parts of Malawi Witnesses apparently are able to carry on life in a somewhat normal way. “Many policemen are sympathizing with our treatment,” as one Witness writes. But it is the Malawi Congress Party men who are usually bent on searching out the Witnesses to hurt them and have them imprisoned. This makes life hazardous.
In a message from Chinteche, Malawi, a Witness hiding in the “bush” was able to get a letter out of the country. He names Witnesses who “were badly beaten until they fainted at Munkhokwe field.” However, a very recent report indicates a turn for the better, in that Witnesses are no longer forced to live in the bush.
From Nkhata Bay, Malawi, a Witness writes: “The chief Timbiri asked the brothers if they will join politics by having the card, but they all refused. So he pushed his chair and went near them and started beating the brothers. He took the head of one brother and the head of his wife and smashed them together. Two brothers and their wives were all red in colour because of blood.”
Summing up, a Witness reporter in a bordering African country said: “The enemy is doing anything that he thinks will weaken the brothers and sisters. In some areas they arrest both brothers and sisters. In others they pick out brothers, especially elders and those they know to be responsible. At times these arrests are done by local party people who know the brothers, and they take them to the police. It is similar with babies. At first they used to take them away from parents. At other times they let them go with them to prison, as you have had reports of babies dying in Dzaleka. They do anything they think will discourage the brothers.”
How do you feel about these things that are being done to Jehovah’s Witnesses in Malawi? Do you feel moved to express yourself in behalf of such innocent sufferers? Did you know that many persons are doing so, including high officials from around the world?
Awake!, December 8, 1975, and March 22, 1976.
[Blurb on page 4]
“That persecution was taking place I was able to verify from Malawi Government files.”
[Blurb on page 4]
“When the persecution becomes official government policy . . . it is no longer possible to remain quiet about these things.”
[Blurb on page 5]
“I could not go to buy or to fetch water.”