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Monuments are dead

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The war leaders Are tightly locked in bloody Feuds Eating each other’s liver …If only parties Would fight poverty With the fury With which they fight each Other! —Okot p’Bitek—“Song of Lawino’’

At the roundabout near Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital, there is a base of what will become a statue of India’s independence movement leader Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi who we all know as Mahatma Gandhi. To those who only flip through the pages of history, Gandhi is an iconic figure to some as much as he is a detestable name to others.

Like a sharp knife, Gandhi—or his name—intersects opinion. Some condemn Gandhi as a bloody racist who believed in climbing the inch-thin step of colour to describe native Africans as Kaffirs and savages who should not have been bundled together with lighter skinned Indians such as him during apartheid.

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To others, Gandhi is the personification of calmness in the face of adversity, and a man who believed that freedom and equality can be attained without a drop of blood. His Satyagraha— meaning shoring up the truth—is a philosophy which has shaped some leaders of this continent, past and present. We have a street in Blantyre named after Mahatma Gandhi! I am sure many have forgotten about that. Perhaps they have decided to go into a convenient state of amnesia.

The recent debate on whether we should have a statue erected in honour of Gandhi is not only interesting, mind-boggling or whatever. First, what is a thing as lifeless as a statue all about? Why should a nation deep in waters of bad governance and choked by the murderous stench of corruption channel its energy to a statue? There are answers.

A statue is an immortalisation of something special. It must be a constant reminder of some greater and pleasant things to have happened to a certain grouping of people: a nation, football team, a religious grouping or many others.

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The legendary Manchester United former coach Sir Alex Ferguson has a statue at Old Trafford, the iconic former Arsenal forward, a French national, Thierry Henry has his statue at the Emirates Stadium while Oliver Tambo, the South African, revered anti-apartheid hero has his statue at the magnificent OR Airport. All these sculptured reminders of positive contributions people make. In 2015, Cape Town University students in South Africa ganged up and protested vehemently to remove a statue of Cecil John Rhodes, a symbol of colonization, who to them was a constant reminder of oppression.

It was removed eventually. Statues are not only statues, I think. But, what I have sadly noted from the pro and anti Gandhi statue erection is something that is deeply pulling this country backwards. It is very clear that the debate whether or not this statue should be erected is dependent on political affiliation. I am even beginning to think that there is more to the marble than we all know. Why is it that those known to be blind loyalists of the ruling party are in full support of the statue project while those on the other divide are against it. The truth will come out, soon.

But my light or right observation is that the anger and furor that have spiced the Gandhi statue erection should also be channeled to more important misdeeds of our corruption-infested nation. We have had too many issues that ought to ignite the wrath of the nation yet we let them slip as we go to sleep.

Who amongst us is still angered that the government borrowed money to buy tractors meant to benefit poor farmers but only ended up in the custody of the opulent and politically connected? Who gives a damn that some senior Malawi Police Service officers were involved in a food ration scandal which even involved the head of state yet they are still free? Do we even get mad at the corruption at parastatals and the stinking loot in government’s MDAs?

Let me say it in raw terms, I am indifferent to the erection of the Mahatma Gandhi statue, wherever it will be. Perhaps, it is only a mocking reminder and an honour of how some crooked Indians who fund our political parties have held this country in captivity. But if you ask me, I know there are so many things we must vent our anger on other than statues because, for me, monuments are dead

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