Ceremonial Martyrdom


It is that time of the year when Malawians from different walks of life come together to commemorate the 1959 massacre, which was the genesis to Malawi’s self-rule which later metamorphosed to the democratic dispensation being enjoyed today.

On that fateful day, 31 sons of Malawi, including three pregnant women, were shot in cold blood by British colonial forces at Nkhata Bay jetty for protesting against the imposition of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland. The docking of a ship on the shores carrying captured freedom fighters triggered it all.

During the reign of first Malawi President Hastings Kamuzu Banda, the Marty’s day was punctuated by prayers, mourning and remembrance of the selfless Malawians who sacrificed their lives for the greater good.


But since the dawn of democracy in the early 90s, the significance of this remarkable day continues to deteriorate and it continues to be overshadowed by politics.

One of the survivors of the bloodshed, Manasseh Benga Chiumia, who chairs the organizing committee of the day’s commemorations each year, has accused the three democratic regimes for failing their responsibility to uphold the country’s history by declaring 3rd March as the national day of mourning.

“Kamuzu was a disciplinarian and he knew what this day meant to the Malawi nation. He dignified and magnified the day. Radio stations played somber music all day in honor of the fallen heroes but things have changed in recent years because our politicians can’t relate , they just read about the day from the books,” Chiumia said.


In recent years, the deceased’s families have been asking government to take over organization of the day’s activities through the department of antiquities but there has been no progress on the matter.

To date, martyr’s day commemoration rests in the hands of the families of the departed victims and year in year out, happens on a shoe string budget.

Veteran politician Dan Msowoya said ahead of the day, that the Martyr’s day continues to lose its value due to unpatriotic political leadership.

He said it is not surprising therefore that for over a century, Malawi has failed to consolidate the gains that the founding fathers intended at the time they challenged the oppressive regime of the whites.

“Our martyr’s needed freedom and self-governance to determine their own priorities in the context of self-esteem, to provide conditions for growth and development, socially, culturally, economically and politically. That presents a clear sense of purpose and virtue, sadly we have gotten it all wrong and plans of our founding fathers are all lost,” Msowoya said.

He added : “Martyrdom is parentage. The present we have today was the future they so planned and died for, which we must, as a nation, commemorate tearfully and as we venerate the individual actors. The flag we salute is theirs, for their sake and in their honor.”

According to Msowoya, in the immediate aftermath of the 3rd March strife, every aspect of government was well coordinated to achieve three fundamental needs of native Malawians, which are; education, health and security.

He however decried that modern political leaders are motivated by self interest, seeking easy access to wealth that is not theirs.

Saying: “Bottom line of course is we have lost instead of gaining. For example, PVHO some 40 years back was full of technological promise, but it is a sorry sight today. We have lost our sense of treasure, we are not good stewards. We do not relate well with innovation.”

Taking his turn, youth activist Wazamazama Katatu said government’s failure to embrace and own the 3rd March demonstrates insensitivity on its part to safeguard the country’s history, a thing he said is a threat to the nation’s identity.

He said Malawi’s political history will continue to be eroded, with nothing for the future generation to refer back to, if freedom fighters remain sidelined and don’t get the honor they deserve from the government.

“It’s a missed opportunity for government, such commemorations stand to unify us. If government spearheaded the day, it would help diffuse nepotistic and regionalist ideas which are constantly dividing our nation into various blocks which are exerting negative forces on the development agenda,” Katatu said.

Katatu then appealed to government to relive the spirit of martyrdom by serving Malawians diligently and championing transformative development in various sectors such as infrastructure.

But government spokesperson Nicholas Dausi said government recognizes the significance of the day, saying it is why it takes part in the commemorations very year.

He said the DPP administration sympathizes with the survivors and the deceased families and assured them of support.

Despite the assurance, government has for decades failed to engage the British government to compensate the affected families for the killings.

Legal practitioner-cum-politician Ralph Mhone, three years ago pledged to help the families engage Britain diplomatically and seek redress from the High Court in London to ensure they get reparations from London which four years ago paid about 20 Million pounds to Kenyans who suffered during the Mau Mau uprising with no headway.

Further to that, the memorial pillar and the mass grave of the freedom fighters remain ruins at the historical beach in Nkhata Bay.

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