Before Chakufwa Chihana surprised the world by openly challenging Malawi’s one-party state on 6 April 1992, within a space of two years, he had collided with the state atleast on two occasions.
Since October 1984, Chihana had been the Secretary General of Southern Africa Trade Union Coordination Council (SATUCC). Following his deportation from Botswana in February 1985, SATUCC secretariat finally moved from Maseru (Lesotho) to Lilongwe (Malawi) in January 1989.
Firstly, Chihana crushed with the state over an eleventh-hour cancellation of the 4th SATUCC Delegates Congress which Chihana had organized to be held in Malawi in 1990. Efforts by Chihana to get an official explanation from the state proved futile. The event was eventually shifted to take place in Arusha, Tanzania later in the same year.
After a successful 4th Delegates Congress in Arusha, Chihana convened the 18th SATUCC Executive Council meeting which was scheduled for mid-May of 1991 in Malawi. At the last minute again, the state cancelled the activity as some participants were already in transit to Malawi.
On 13 May 1991, after Chihana was notified about the annulment of the activity on security grounds, he urgently confronted the Police and the Office of President and Cabinet (OPC) to demand clarity. He was finally informed that it was one junior officer in the Ministry of Labour who unilaterally decided SATUCC activity should not take place without OPC’s directive or knowledge.
Consequently, the 18th Executive Council meeting was moved to Harare (Zimbabwe) where it was held on Sunday 26th May 1991.
At this Harare meeting, it was resolved that a SATUCC delegation comprising of three representatives from Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe should embark on a mission to have an audience with Malawi’s Minister of Labour Hon. Wadson Deleza to launch a complaint and propose that as a way forward, Malawi Government as a host should enter into a formal cooperation agreement with SATUCC.
SATUCC delegation led by its Vice President C. Manyanda and accompanied by Chihana, finally met with the Minister in August 1991 in Mangochi where the draft Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) as proposed by SATUCC was tabled, later on amended and re-submitted to Malawi Government for consideration.
It was before Malawi Government finally responded to SATUCC on signing the MoU that Chihana landed back at Kamuzu International Airport (KIA) in Lilongwe on 6 April 1992. He was coming from implementing SATUCC activities and participating at the Southern Africa Labour Commission meeting in Lusaka (Zambia) where he also delivered a key note address on 20 March 1992 at a conference on Prospects For Democracy in Malawi organised by exiled Malawians.
The Police swiftly arrested him at upon his arrival back at KIA. His residence in Area 12 was thoroughly searched by Police before they raided SATUCC secretariat later same day where staff members and a guest from USA were arrested.
While his workmates were released after few weeks, Chihana himself remained in jail until 13 June 1993 after being tried and convicted of importing and possessing seditious materials in December 1992 by High Court.
Temporarily, a SATUCC office was opened in Kitwe, Zambia before shifting back to Lilongwe in March 1995. Months later, SATUCC secretariat returned to Gaborone (Botswana) with Morgan Tsvangirai as a successor to Chihana.