MALAWI REMEMBERS FIRST REVOLUTIONARY REV JOHN CHILEMBWE
Reverend John Chilembwe died in 1915.
96 years after his death, is he still relevant in the Malawi of today? Why did he revolt?
The first European is believed to have visited Malawi in 1616.
And the first English mission was set in the country in 1875. But this led to clashes between the missionaries and the Arab slave traders,
Then in 1884, Cecil John Rhodes’s British South Company received a charter to develop the country, and in May 1991, as a result of treaties between Britain, Germany and Portugal, Malawi (then known as Nyasaland) became a British protectorate.
And based on the British Constitution of 1907, the country was being controlled from Britain, not elected by people.
The country-lock, stock and barrel-was virtually under the rule of colonialists.
The natives faced numerous challenges, especially with regard to land issues and also irksome was unpaid labour on estates owned by whites.
According to the country’s renowned historian, Dr. Desmond Dudwa Phiri, these are some of the issues that infuriated Rev. John Chilembwe.
The American-trained Rev. Chilembwe revolted against the colonialists in 1915.
Dr. Phiri says, ‘The natives were facing problems like working for white farmers without pay. This was called ‘Thangata’, and Rev. John Chilembwe was utterly angered by this.’
‘The other thing that infuriated the country’s first revolutionary was the tendency by the British government to recruit Malawians to fight in the First World War without compensation.’
But ninety six Christmases down the line, is Rev. Chilembwe relevant?
‘Honestly, any right-thinking man should see the importance of honouring Rev. John Chilembwe. The man put the country on the world map and, above all, he set sow the seeds of self-independence, says the renowned historian.
‘We, therefore, need to honour this man in all the sense of the word.’
How often have we heard that history repeats itself? It does—time and again!
Although Rev. Chilembwe and followers were killed, and others were rounded up, the seeds of self-independence germinated later.
Led by Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda, the country finally became independent in 1964.
On Saturday 15 January, 2011, President Professor Bingu wa Mutharika leads the nation in remembering Rev. Chilembwe in Chiradzulu.
How could anyone even the hardened cynic, not be moved by the spirit of bravery of Rev. John Chilembwe?
He risked his life to liberate Malawi from the yoke of colonial bondage.
Truly, great individuals do turn the course of history!