EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH DR. LOUIS NTHENDA ON HOW HE FLED TO ZAMBIA FROM MALAWI IN 1967.
The Interview was conducted in May 2017 by Lost History Foundation (LHF).
LHF: One more question that has come is about your exodus to Zambia from Malawi…fleeing from Dr Banda. How did it happen? How did you come to know that there was a warrant of arrest on you?_
LN: My base was at the University of Malawi (UNIMA) in 1967 it was at Chichiri Campus.
I was officially attached to UNIMA with the title of Research Associate and allocated university housing which I shared with a young Assistant Lecturer. The Archives were in Zomba, then still the Capital. I hung around in Zomba talking to various people to appeal the ban.
Gomile Kumtumanji who was then a Cabinet Minister invited me to his office saying he had an urgent matter. I was actually taken to his office in his Ministerial car.
Kumtumanji was Regional (Provincial?) MCP Chairman of the Southern Region. He didn’t mince words when I arrived. He said and here I paraphrase :
“Malawi politics is regional politics. As Chairman of the Southern Region it’s my responsibility to protect my own people. You are about to be detained and I want you to leave tonight for Zambia. Don’t tell anybody. Don’t say goodbye to anybody.
You must leave before a message is sent out to the borders to look out for you. Our Region needs educated people. So continue your education. Good luck.”
The time was 10 or 11 a.m. I left his office, took the bus back to Chichiri to pack a suitcase. I was sharing a University house with Simon Downie, an Assistant Lecturer in Geography whom I had known at Oxford.
He was the only one I told. He helped me pack. There was an 8 p.m. night bus from Wenela depot in Blantyre to LL which I took.
Arriving in LL there was a connecting morning bus for Nchinji (Fort Manning) which I took.
LHF: How then did you escape arrest at the borders on your way to Zambia?
LN: There were two border post blocks at all Malawi borders then. The first road block was manned by Young Pioneers.
After being cleared by MYP, you then presented yourself to Government Immigration Border police at a second road block.
Migrant labourers to Zambian mines etc didn’t have passports or any special documents. At Mchinji, everyone got off the bus and we had to answer individual questions, our faces carefully scrutinised.
I presented myself as an ordinary village boy using only one name Che Jemusi going to join my uncle who had found me a mine job on the Copperbelt etc etc. With all the dust in my hair nose eyes etc from the night bus from Blantyre and without a morning wash, it was a believable story: a desperate uneducated boy without documents going to work on the mines.
Since my photo or name hadn’t reached them, they couldn’t connect any dots.
They checked our luggages on the roof of the bus but didn’t open them. I repeated this story which I had been paractising for more than 12 hours to the official immigration officers.
No one on that morning bus was detained. We had no problem with the Zambian border police after being cleared by Malawi. I took another bus all the way to Lusaka. Within one week I landed a job as a research assistant in the Dept of Sociology, UNZA.
LHF: How long did it take for the warrant of arrest to be issued after access to the archives was denied?
Some two weeks is when Kumtumanji called me on a matter of some urgency to his office. So I would imagine the decision had just been taken at the highest level and only a limited number of people were aware of it.
Five months later my housemate, Simon Downie, was served with a deportation order. After Malawi Simon went and took a Diploma in Education at Makerere University and decided to teach in Secondary Schools in Uganda.
He married a Ugandan, ended up as Registrar of a private Catholic University. This year he celebrates 50 years of living in Uganda, somewhere on the banks of the River Nile.
We are still in regular contact.
_TO BE CONTINUED_ …
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