Honouring heroes of the nation
In The Nation issue of Thursday February 16 2017, we learned from the Livingstonia Synod Church and Society Director Moses Mkandawire that his organisation has vowed to honour Levi Zililo Mumba and other contributors to the country.
Commentators have suggested that Malawi is a nation which does not recognise people who have contributed to the country. There is partial truth in this. We have Kamuzu Day and Chilembwe Day. The banknotes circulating in the country remind us of James Sangala, Rose Chibambo Inkosi ya Makhosi Philip Gomani II and Inkosi ya Makhosi M’mbelwa II. They contributed to the struggle for independence.
It is a fact, however, that there are still many people whose patriotic activities have been interred with their bones if we are to borrow Shakespeare’s phrase in Julius Caesar.
The country fails to give recognition to many deserving people because not much has been written and published about them. Partly, it is because of the manner history is taught in the country’s primary schools today.
During my schooldays, the teaching of history in primary schools included periods on great Africans and black Americans. We were taught of kings like Shaka of Zululand, Moshoeshoe of Basutoland (Lesotho) and Khama of the Ngwato in Botswana. Above all, we were taught the story of Dr James Kwegyir Aggrey of the Gold Coast (Ghana). The purpose of teaching biographies was to give pupils role models. It is high time the teaching about achievers in Malawi and other African countries were reintroduced.
Among those who read the news item in The Nation, how many had heard of Levi Mumba and his deeds?
After the Chilembwe uprising and the dreadful reprisals that followed, many Malawians were afraid to engage in many activities that suggested they were anti-government. The honour goes to Mumba to have started a voluntary body called District Native Association (DNA). He did this while he was learning or working at Livingstonia. His main collaborator was the famous Tonga man Yuriah Chirwa.
DNAs were not tribal. All people residing in a particular district could join them. Later, Mumba moved to the South and inspired the formation of the Blantyre and Zomba NAs. His leading supporters were Sangala, Charles J. Matinga, Rev. Thomas Maseya and the US graduate Fred Gresham Njilima.
It was not easy for Mumba to convince the people to join DNAs. They told him openly that the government would not do anything just because he had asked for it.
Mumba’s rebuttal of such arguments was to quote what he said a Zulu, saying: “A baby that does not cry dies on its mother’s back.”
Sangala while working as a filing clerk in the Provincial Commissioner Office, Blantyre, was receiving reports and petitions of these associations from all over the country. He noticed that the government was playing the resolutions from one district against those of another. In 1943, he founded an organisation called Nyasaland African Council with the objective of coordinating the activities of DNAs. He asked Mumba to write the constitution of the council.
When the members met again in 1944, Mumba presented a constitution in which he had renamed the council as Nyasaland African Congress (NAC). The meeting elected him president. He was the first president of NAC but the founder was Sangala.
When I asked Sangala what Mumba looked like, he replied: “A hefty dignified man like M’mbelwa II.”
Unfortunately, at the beginning of the year 1945, he died of asthma and was widely mourned by members of all communities for he was a great personality.
The late Bingu wa Mutharika set up the Awards and Decoration Committee in the Office of the President and Cabinet for the purpose of honouring and decorating Malawians and foreign contributors, dead or alive. For several years, annual awards were announced at Independence Celebrations. The committee was apparently disconfirmed after Mutharika’s death.
To be sure that most people who contributed to the progress of our country are given due attention, let us have a dictionary of biographies. In the 1970’s, I wrote six biographies under the common title “Malawians to Remember”. Names included were Inkosi Gomani II, Chilembwe, Dunduzu Chisiza, Charles Chinula, Sangala and Clement Kadalie. I would have loved to include Chief Mwase (Samuel) of Kasungu, M’mbelwa of Mzimba and Mumba but writing biographies is expensive. You have to do a lot of research and this means you must have ample working capital.
A biographical dictionary would include names of people who may not deserve full-fledged biographies but whose contributions deserve a paragraph or two in history books.
Who is to write this dictionary? I would suggest universities should take up the challenge with some financial donations from well-wishers. You may read more about Mumba and his contribution in History of Malawi Volume 2 by D.D. Phiri.
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