Malawi’s Citizens Face a Vital Decision
CHRISTIANS throughout the entire world have been deeply stirred by the violent persecution that has recently raged against Jehovah’s Christian witnesses in the southeast African nation of Malawi.
Every citizen of this country, which is about the size of New York state, is affected. For at least one person out of every 194 of the population of 4,530,000 is among those persecuted.
The question therefore confronting each citizen is, Will I stand for what is right and against oppression? Will I be one of those Christ spoke of, saying: “Whoever gives one of these little ones [a Christian disciple] only a cup of cold water to drink because he is a disciple, I tell you truly, he will by no means lose his reward”?—Matt. 10:42.
Jehovah’s witnesses are well known as peace-loving people, obedient to the laws of the nation in which they live. Nevertheless, in Malawi they have been beaten, tortured and some of them killed. Thousands were driven out of the country in peril of their lives, leaving all their possessions behind. More than 20,000 fled the country, 19,000 of them to Zambia on Malawi’s western border, where they were placed in camps as unwanted visitors. Because of the hardships, 350 persons, many of them children, died.
But this was not enough to satisfy their persecutors. Under false representations that they were being moved to healthier camps in Zambia, the refugees were loaded into buses and trucks and taken back into Malawi, where they were met by Malawian armed forces and dispersed to their villages. Twenty-one of the presiding overseers of congregations were imprisoned immediately after being sent back to Malawi; three more Witnesses were later jailed in the Rumphi district.
Some had nails driven through their hands; others were jabbed with sewing needles. One group of four Witnesses were taken to twelve different branch offices of the Malawi Congress Party, being forced to walk a distance of forty miles and not being given any food for four days.
Now many of them have been forced to flee again, the majority southward to Mozambique, where more than 34,000 are now living in twelve refugee camps.
Why this hatred and violent treatment of Christians in a country whose Life President, Dr. H. Kamuzu Banda, is a religious man, an elder of the Presbyterian Church?
The pretext used for the persecution is the fact that the Witnesses refuse to buy political party cards. But, as Guy Wright points out in the San Francisco Examiner, in its issue of October 17, 1972:
“A religious war is being fought between the Jehovah’s Witnesses and a small African country called Malawi.
“It’s a very one-sided war, pitting force against faith. . . . You might regard them [the Witnesses] as model citizens. They pay taxes diligently, tend the sick, battle illiteracy.”
That the basic reason behind the persecution is religious, note the report of Life President Banda’s speech at the 1972 Malawi Congress Party Annual Convention, held September 10-16, 1972—at what place? The Catholic Secondary School at Zomba. Calling Jehovah’s witnesses the “Devil’s Witnesses,” Banda “questioned why they do not go to the Church and ask for help from God when in trouble.”—Malawi News, September 19, 1972.
Why do Jehovah’s witnesses refuse to buy the party cards? It is not because of any political leanings on their part, for they are absolutely neutral toward all political movements. With them it is solely a matter of conscience and God’s law. Because of their exclusive devotion to Jehovah God and his kingdom they refrain from taking sides with worldly factions, as Jesus said of his followers: “They are no part of the world, just as I am no part of the world.”—John 17:16.
BRUTALITIES SINCE THEIR RETURN
The atrocities that have occurred have been performed by Malawi Congress Party members with the full approval and backing of Party officials.
Refugees who have been interviewed testify that on being brought back to the Lilongwe old aerodrome in Malawi they found the grounds surrounded by police and Malawian army soldiers with guns in their hands. Regional ministers Kumbweza Banda and M. Q. Y. Chiwambo were on hand to speak to the assembled crowd. Also present were Mr. Msonthi, Mr. Gadama and other members of Parliament, as well as members of the Youth League, Young Pioneers and Women’s League. The Witnesses were told by Mr. Banda and Mr. Chiwambo:
‘You went to Zambia of your own accord. Nobody chased you and you are back of your own will. Nobody has called you. Therefore, you must go to your respective homes and cooperate with local chiefs, village headmen and Malawi Congress Party chairmen by purchasing Malawi Congress Party cards.’
Typical of the experiences of those who returned to their homes is the account by Bauleni Dzuwa, an eighty-eight-year-old Witness from Nachite Village, Lilongwe area:
“On the morning of January 1, 1973, I learned that a gang of Youth Leaguers was on a hunt for Jehovah’s witnesses in a neighbouring village of Nachiola. I hastened to tell a young brother to rush and tell the police about the matter. It was not long before the gang of Youth Leaguers surrounded and seized me. They were more than thirty in number. They were headed by the Area Chairman, Samu Chitonde, Youth Chairman Gray Mtambo and Youth Secretary Lafaele Gunda. They showed me the political cards and ordered me to buy one of them. On my refusal to do so on grounds of conscience, these three people started to beat me with wooden sticks, with the other Youth Leaguers looking on. I was most seriously hurt on the hands and knees. They continued to beat me until I was too weak to stand any longer and I fainted.
“When I regained consciousness they were still standing around me, saying: ‘He is still alive.’ I was forced to stand up and was ordered to walk to Chiwamba Traditional Court. There were four other brothers there whose elbows were tied together at the back and their legs were tied also. They did the same to me, and we were left in that uncomfortable position for at least one and a half hours.
“At last, the police arrived. They ordered the Youth Leaguers to untie the ropes. I and two other brothers were so badly hurt that the police sent us to the hospital. The following morning we were taken to the police station. We gave statements of what had happened, but we were told that there was nothing the police would do for us. We were told to go back home. So we took a bus from Lilongwe and travelled to Mlangeni [in Mozambique]. I am now here at Mlangeni camp and I am happy to mix in this community of brothers and sisters.”
Another Witness, Mrs. Velina Lenadi of Nachite Village, had her house burned down before the flight to Zambia. On returning home, Mrs. Lenadi, her eighteen-year-old daughter Labahi and her three other children were stripped naked and beaten into unconsciousness. In the meantime her husband was held by police. The beating of these women was done by members of the Youth League whose names are: Kandito, from Nachite Village; Lenadi and Malenya, from Chimdidi Village; Kaliyekha, from Machiola Village; and Mtambo, from Mpesa Village.
Michael Yadanga, of Mzuzu, Northern Region, after being transported back from Zambia, was set loose with his family in the center of a game reserve, with wild animals roaming everywhere. They had to walk several miles to get a bus. Village Headman Ganji Mhango, Branch Chairman Alick Nyasulu and two former branch chairmen, Alick Mhango and Mhone, were sent by Mr. Nyirenda, Member of Parliament, to persuade Yadanga to buy a party membership card. Yadanga said to them: “I’ve lost my teeth because I would not buy a card. I’ve lost my job because I would not buy a card. I was severely beaten, my property was destroyed and I was forced to flee to Zambia—all this because I would not buy a card. I am not going to buy one now.” After reporting Yadanga’s reply to Mr. Nyirenda, they organized a gang of twenty to get him at his home. Warned by a friendly member of the Youth League that “they are coming to kill you,” Yadanga fled with his family to Mozambique.
Natanda Madula of Chiweta Village, Mchinji area, had hardly reached home after a thirty-mile walk from the Lilongwe aerodrome when Youth Leaguers forced him and five other Witnesses to go to the Lemwe branch office of the Malawi Congress Party, where Area Chairman Jemusi asked: “You have come back, eh? Why did you leave this country in the first place?” Madula replied that as a witness of Jehovah he refused to meddle in politics and did not want to become a member of a political party by buying a membership card. Madula’s refusal so angered Chairman Jemusi that he ordered four men, whose names are Chimpase, Wailesi, Kaochi and Chagamba, to beat Madula. Jemusi himself kicked and stamped Madula with his boots, then they stripped him naked, beat him further and finally dragged him out of the building. They treated the other five Witnesses in the same atrocious manner, but all the Witnesses stood firm for their convictions. Being threatened further, they fled to Mozambique.
Such are only a few of the scores of reports from all parts of Malawi. In the Mzimba district seven homes were burned and the Witnesses were beaten or tortured. Four children died at Mtundu Village and the same number at Lusanga Village, because of the shortage of food and their not being permitted entrance to hospitals. In this same (Rumphi) area in the Northern Region, twenty-seven houses have been burned at Mtundu, nine at Mjuma and fourteen in the town of Rumphi. The Witnesses in this district have been forced to flee into the thick bush and high mountains.
As the citizens of Malawi observe these terrible things they are faced with a decision. Having established their independence as a nation, which they desired for many years, are they now going to stifle freedom of conscience and worship of God, or permit their government to do so without protest? Are there those who, instead, feel ashamed of such action, and who are willing to give a figurative “cup of cold water” to comfort and aid persecuted Christians, thereby showing they stand on the side of Christ? Yes, there are, as the following article reveals.