Orton Chirwa Hands Over Presidency of MCP to Dr. Kamuzu Banda

Founding President of Malawi Congress Party, Orton Chirwa.
Founding President of Malawi Congress Party, Orton Chirwa.

The 5th of April in 1960, is a day when Orton Chirwa handed over the Presidency of the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) to Dr. Kamuzu Banda. The ceremony took place at Orton Chirwa’s residence in Limbe.

Orton Chirwa’s speech during the handover ceremony clearly showed that he had worked extremely hard to facilitate the establishment a vibrant political party while Dr. Kamuzu Banda was still in detention at Gweru Prison.

During the handing over ceremony, he remarked that:

“Dr Kamuzu Banda is taking over a colossal organization, well disciplined and determined. There are about 300,000 paid up members. We have a Land Rover, an electric duplicator, a large staff and a bank balance of over 2,000 pounds” (Malawi News, 9 April 1960).

Since then, Orton Chirwa served as Vice President of MCP till the first MCP party convention was held in Nkhotakota towards the end of September 1960 at which a motion was hurriedly passed to make Dr. Kamuzu Banda the Life President of the party and scrap off the position of Vice President then occupied by Orton Chirwa.

In her autobiography entitled Fearless Fighter, Dr. Vera Chirwa wrote about this incident:

“Suddenly, Dunduzu Chisiza got up, a move which really infuriated Orton and said:

‘All of us are equal here. We need an elder to lead us, to whom nobody can be second.’ Here Chisiza was directing his speech at Orton, who was still vice-president. ‘Kamuzu Banda is one of his own and below him we all become equal. Now, since we have such a person as Kamuzu Banda, and since we all love him so much, don’t we all want him to be life president?’

People were confused. They had put youth leaders on the front rows, who were shouting and dancing and deliberately making it hard to understand what was actually going on. Pamphlets with a picture of the leader as ‘life president’ were quickly distributed and the new title was confirmed. Orton had been couped again and he was shocked.”

Suffice to say, on the 3rd March, 1959, the Nyasaland Government had declared a State of Emergency as the rule of law was breaking down countrywide. A new party MCP was later formed in September 1959 with Orton Chirwa as founding president to replace the banned Nyasaland African Congress (NAC).

Dunduzu Chisiza, Masauko Chipembere, Yatuta Chisiza, Qabaniso Chibambo, Gwanda Chakuamba and few others had just been released from jail at Kanjedza Prison in Blantyre. On the same day of release, they travelled straight to the party convention which was still in progress in Nkhotakota.

The million kwacha question therefore remains to say, of all the delegates to the MCP convention of September 1960, why did it have to be Dunduzu Chisiza (who had been in jail months before the formation of the new party more than a year back, and had just been out of jail for a couple hours), as the one to sneak in such a controversial and divisive motion to anoint Dr. Kamuzu Banda the Life President of the party and demote Orton Chirwa from the Vice Presidency?

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