The political life of Gwanda Chakuamba is a full attestation of how loyal he was to Hastings Kamuzu Banda and his beliefs. Just like malignant cancer that spreads slowly and kills later, Chakuamba’s loyalty to his belief and Kamuzu was so malignant that it has its ups and downs.
Ironically, Chakuamba died without any regret for the loyalty he had to Kamuzu. His autobiography — to be released this week — has provided a thorough account of Chakuamba political journey and a brutal narrative and confession of many issues associated with his name.
Born on April 4, 1935 in Nsanje, Gwanda (Domingo by birth) Chakuamba was born to a Sena mother (Agnes) and a Mang’anja father (Chakuamba). He completed his primary education in Nsanje and Thyolo (where he crossed paths with Bingu wa Mutharika then Webster Thom). He attended his secondary school at Zomba Catholic School, commonly known as Box 2, and a two-year matriculation at Solusi College in Bulawayo Zimbabwe. Chakuamba had a brief stint at Dedza when he got suspended from Box 2 after a quarrel that erupted from a football match loss by Chakuamba’s team – whose goalkeeper he was then. After Bulawayo, Chakuamba worked briefly with Empire Cotton Growers Association, his only formal and applied job in his entire life.
Typical of any youthful adventurer, Chakuamba and his friend Henry Chirombo decided to visit Chakuamba’s brother James, who was based in Congo. While in Congo, Chakuamba became interested in law after reading an article in a book by Sir Patrick Hastings with a topic “Ooh I have killed her”. This book contained a case narration and court proceedings of a man who after being told that his wife had died, exclaimed: “Ooh I have killed her”. He was arrested and charged with the murder of his wife. But the lawyer that represented him during the case defended and won the case for him, arguing around the notion that “ooh I have killed her” could have meant several things, the least being that the husband had actually killed the wife. The skill and tactics with which the case was handled and finally won fascinated Chakuamba and from that day onwards, he could not have enough of the Penguin law books. With the help of David Rubadiri, Chakuamba got a scholarship to study law at the Philadelphia University.
As “dad’s son”, Chakuamba decided to return to Malawi to bid farewell to his father. This was when he was introduced to Kamuzu by Dunduzu Chisiza and Lawrence Makata at his father’s insistence who was then a member of Nyasaland African Congress (Nac), the only opposing party of the British rule.
Chakuamba’s first assigned task in politics was to organise and mobilise support for the Nac in the Shire Valley. This involved organising political rallies which were then prohibited by the ruling party; hence, these meetings were conducted at night. Chakuamba in his initial primary position worked closely with Chisiza, whom he later identified as his mentor until his death in 1963. It should be noted that Chisiza’s book, Africa – What Lies Ahead, typed by Chakuamba (he had learnt a bit of typing in Congo). His first political arrest was on March 3, 1959 alongside other 200 congress leaders, the likes of Kamuzu, Dunduzu and Yatuta Chisiza and Henry Masauko Chipembere after attending The Bush Meeting where an action plan was discussed and adopted in case Kamuzu was arrested. He was sent to Malonderas camp in Zimbabwe alongside other fighters who were also sent to Khami and Gweru.
He was a fully blacklisted young man by the colonial government and that explains why he was released later alongside equally “dangerous” fighters such as Chipembere and Chisiza brothers. He was released with the others on September 27, 1960 during the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) annual conference. He was later, after the conference, appointed as the organising secretary for the Shire Valley.
During the 1961 elections, Chakuamba contested as MCP candidate and won the parliamentary seat for the Port Herald (Nsanje) and Chikwawa Constituency after defeating his opponent, Harry Thomson senior, who was a candidate for the United Federal Party (UFP). He was the youngest Member of Parliament in the Legislative Council at that time and Kamuzu became the leader of the majority party and prime minister. While in the Parliament, he was also appointed the Parliamentary Private Secretary which entailed working closely with Kamuzu. Among other things, he was responsible for arranging logistics and ensuring that Kamuzu was safe leading to a strong personal and professional bond between them. He was still the Parliamentary Personal Secretary at the time of the cabinet crisis.
On September 10, 1964, Chakuamba was appointed as a Minister of Community and Social Development. He introduced mass adult literacy and inclusion of home economics in schools and even villages during his tenure. He termed this as one of his major achievements while holding this portfolio. His appointment was made during the cabinet crisis which almost led to his and Muwalo Nqumayo’s death at the hands of anti-Kamuzu supporters. A series of fracas had targeted Chakuamba and Muwalo intensely. He lost his left eye in the processes of fighting and being beaten by rebel ministers’ supporters.
Kamuzu’s satisfaction with Chakuamba led to more appointment. He was appointed as the deputy regional chairman and also the chairman of the disciplinary committee of the MCP. He was changed portfolios and appointed as Minister of Agriculture and Natural Resources (held the position for almost five years). He was appointed as the Minister of Education and Information and was later on appointed as Minister of Local Government. He was later on made Minister of Works and Supplies (one of the shortest he ever held) before being appointed as the Minister of Youth and Culture. Gwanda served as a cabinet minister for almost 17 years, making him one of the longest serving Malawian cabinet ministers.
Unlike his first ministerial appointment, he was unable to accomplish much in most of these portfolios as he barely held them long enough. However, notable among his achievements include the facilitation of the Chikangawa tree-planting project and worked around establishing and developing rice and sugar schemes (while he was Minister of Agriculture) which were also within the Malawi Young Pioneers (MYP)development programme. Chakuamba was instrumental in convincing chiefs from the Shire Valley to open up to Chinese/Taiwanese rice irrigation establishments amid popular view then that the Chinese eat humans. Chakuamba had also been appointed as a co-commander to Aleke Kadonaphani Banda of the MYP, the position that made him be identified and commonly known as one of the cruel and violent leaders of MCP during his appointment as a minister.
At the peak of his career, Chakuamba was instrumental in linking and introducing Bakili Muluzi (who was then at Nasawa Base) to Kamuzu. The former was to replace Rodwell Munyenyembe as MCP secretary general who had fallen out of Kamuzu’s grace. Chakuamba’s numerous appointments in high political positions signalled the good relationship that he enjoyed with Kamuzu and how high and mighty his work was appreciated.
However, his first downfall with Kamuzu came through a mere praise by fellow parliamentarian, Faindi Phiri, (who coincidentally also died this year) which led to his arrest. He was arrested on November 25, 1980. He was tried and found guilty on all four counts at the Southern Region Traditional Court at Soche in Blantyre in a case that run from December 1, 1980 to March 20, 1981. He was sentenced to 22 years in prison.
Until his death, Chakuamba jokingly kept on remembering Chief Nazombe (the “Chief Judge” of his case) who told Chakuamba that “kupolama ndi kuwerama ndi chimodzimodzi” – when the later asked for leniency in the jail term. By this, Chief Nazombe meant that there was not going to be any significant difference in terms of what was passed and what Chakuamba wanted. Chakuamba was then taken on a tour of shame to all MYP bases (for the confirmation of his former troupes) and had part of his assets seized. Chakuamba was released in mid-July 1993 after only serving 13 years.
While in prison, Chakuamba had joined United Democratic Front (UDF). He was then not given any senior position but was expected to work in his home area. However, he was having some differences and wrangles with other UDF party officials in Shire Valley of which MCP got news of that and invited him back to MCP. He accepted only after getting the invitation in writing with Kamuzu’s signature on it. This was during the time Kamuzu was critically ill.
Being a chairperon of a ruling council, Chakuamba was sworn in before the Chief Justice in Zomba as acting head of state. He was, besides being the secretary general appointed as the Minister of Home Affairs where he lobbied for police and prison services to be combined. Kamuzu took over again on December 7, 1993.
In the 1994 General Elections, Chakuamba was picked as Kamuzu’s running mate. Chakuamba was the official leader of opposition between 1994 and 2001. In 1997, Chakuamba pushed and proposed for bestowing onto Kamuzu of a title “Father and Founder of the Malawi Nation” as a way of preserving Kamuzu’s legacy. He argued that although in 1960s the title of “Life Presidency” of MCP had been conferred on Kamuzu, it had become clear in the multiparty era that this was the honour that could not be recognised by other parties.
In 1999, Gwanda paired with Chakufwa Chihana of the Alliance for Democracy and narrowly lost to Bakili Muluzi. A year later, a battle of MCP leadership and leader of opposition ensued between Chakuamba and John Tembo. He in 2002 left MCP and formed the Republican Party. In 2004 elections, he led the Mgiwirizano Coalition which was later disbanded after he jointly formed Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) with late Bingu wa Mutharika. The maize cob symbol of DPP was an initial thought of Chakuamba and Zikhale Ngoma.
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