History Of Malawi

The Assassination of the Mwanza Four on 18 May 1983.

Dick Matenje attending a conference abroad.

On the 18th May 1983, three cabinet ministers and a member of parliament were assassinated by agents of the Malawi Government. These were: Hon. Dick Matenje (MP) the Minister without portfolio and Secretary General of the Malawi Congress Party (MCP); Hon. Aaron Gadama (MP) the Regional Minister for Centre; Hon. Twaibu Sangala (MP) the Minister of Health; and Hon. David Chiwanga (Member of Parliament for Chikwawa-East).

There are various theories which have over the years emerged to explain why the four were eliminated ‘under orders from above’.

Others have contended that the four were killed for internally opposing Dr. Kamuzu Banda’s ‘unpopular’ policies and dictatorship.

It is said that among others, they had heavily criticized Dr. Kamuzu Banda on the inexorable rising of John Tembo (uncle to Mama Cecilia Kadzamira) in various government positions and the role of Mama Cecilia Kadzamira the State House Official Hostess.

Some sources have also stated that the four had vehemently opposed Dr. Kamuzu Banda’s intentions to amend the republican constitution to allow a post of a Prime Minister to be created for Hon. John Tembo.

Dick Matenje (standing on the middle) in early 1983 during opening of tobacco sales at Limbe Auction Floors.

However, according to parliamentary records (hansard) of March 1983, Gadama, Matenje and Chiwanga as MPs openly made scathing remarks against financial mismanagement and corruption within government during the budget session of Parliament in March 1983.

That particular session of Parliament was presented with a highly critical report from the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) which noted massive overspending by some government departments and irresponsible indebtedness on the part of parastatal companies, some of which were by chaired by Hon. John Tembo.

Dr Kamuzu Banda himself also happened to be the minister responsible for the four ministries in question ie Defense, Agriculture and Natural Resources, Justice and External Affairs portfolios.

In their submissions during the parliamentary deliberations on the PAC report, Matenje, Gadama and Chiwanga did not mince words to express outrage and displeasure upon the revelation of gross misuse and abuse of public funds in the above mentioned ministries and parastatals and lack of oversight by respective controlling officers.

Hon. Aaron Gadama (right) in 1983 before his assassination.

That budget session and the deliberations of the PAC report in particular were later described by the Supreme Court Judgement on the Mwanza case (delivered on 27th July 1997) as ‘heated, and critical of government.’

It has therefore been argued by others that this would have probably been viewed as a direct confrontation by the three against Dr Kamuzu Banda the minister responsible for the four ministerial portfolios in question, Hon. John Tembo as the chair of some of the parastatals blacklisted in this regard and above all the then head of the civil service Mr. John Ngwiri.

This particular parliament’s tenure was also coming to an end, and the next one party parliamentary elections were to be held the following month from 29-30 June 1983.

Few days earlier on Kamuzu Day (Dr. Kamuzu Banda’s birthday) the 14th May 1983, Dr. Kamuzu Banda stressed that all leaders had to perform and that nobody’s position in parliament or cabinet was secure.

The Parliament was dissolved at the end of a special session held on 17 May 1983, after which there was to be the presentation of certificates to parliamentary candidates at Kwacha Conference Centre in Blantyre the following day. Actually, Matenje himself as Secretary General of MCP, was scheduled to chair this event.

According to the details provided in Dr. John Lwanda’s (1993) book Kamuzu Banda of Malawi: A study in Promise, Power and Paralysis, the four were arrested on 17 May 1983 along Zomba-Blantyre road, taken to the Eastern Region Police Headquarters in Zomba and spent a night at Mikuyu Prison.

They were transferred to Blantyre the following day where they were brought first to the MCP sub-head office at Chichiri in Blantyre and later to a special branch office in Limbe.

During the night, reports have it that they were hooded, handcuffed and driven to Mwanza- Thambani back-road which leads south from Mwanza district along the Malawi/Mozambican border, where they were hammered and butchered to death and finally dumped in a blue Peugeot saloon, registration number BF 5343 disguised as if they had perished during a car accident while fleeing the country into Mozambique.

BBC audio on Mwanza Four Murders of 18 May 1983.

Later, Mr. Geofrey Kachale the then Deputy Auditor General who is reported to have prepared the Audit Report which was discussed during the heated budget session of Parliament in March 1983, was poisoned and rushed to Zomba Hospital where he was successfully resuscitated.

That is according to information given by his Harare-based brother Cuthbert Kachale who further told this writer that his brother Geoffrey Kachale, eventually fled to exile where he picked up a job at the Eastern and Southern African Management Institute (ESAMI) in Arusha (Tanzania).

In January 1995 under the Bakili Muluzi’s new government, Dr Kamuzu Banda and his close associates Hon. John Tembo and Mama Cecilia Kadzamira and three former police officers were formally charged in the High Court with murder and conspiracy to murder the four politicians.

On the 23 December 1995, the jury found each of the respondents not guilty. Finally, on 31 July 1997, the Supreme Court dismissed all the four grounds of appeal by the state.

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