THE POLITICAL ATMOSPHERE BY END OF DECEMBER 1991.

Dr. Justin Malewezi

By the beginning of 1991, when the cold war had faded, pressure from western countries and donor agencies on Malawi Government intensified inform of open criticism of Malawi’s bad record on human rights.

Such criticisms surfaced at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting which was held from 16-21 October 1991 in Harare, Zimbabwe where Malawi’s Life President Dr. Kamuzu Banda lost balance as he climbed the stairs to the dais. Kenyan President Daniel Arap Moi came to his rescue and helped him to his seat.

Immediately after that incident, Dr. Kamuzu Banda fired the Secretary to the Office of President and Cabinet (SPC) Justin Malewezi followed by a reshuffle of the entire cabinet. This was interpreted by others as intense pressure for democratic change exerting the necessary impact on the one party state.

On the 2nd November 1991, in the neighboring Zambia, an opposition leader Fredrick Chiluba became the new head of state after winning a resounding victory against President Kenneth Kaunda who had been in power 27 years. This development triggered hope and enthusiasm about similar incident obtaining in Malawi very soon.

Barely a month later, employees at various workplaces in Blantyre received Christmas/New Year cards from anonymous sources with a message written as follows:

 _Wishing you a Happy Christmas and New Year full of joys of multiparty democracy._

By the end of December 1991, most of the recipients had handed over such cards to their superiors who surrendered them to police as they were tantamount to be deemed as seditious materials that would certainly land them into jail without trial if they were discovered that they had opted to remain silent upon receiving such cards.

All this happened way before the catholic bishops issued the Lenten pastoral letter critical of the one party state that was read in catholic churches across the country on 8 March 1992.

Nevertheless, historians and researchers have not been able to definitively trace or identify the sources where these Christmas/New Year cards actually came from.

Ten months later, on 18 October 1992, Dr. Kamuzu Banda finally delivered a national address to announce that a referendum would be held on 15 March 1993 which was eventually rescheduled to 14 June 1993 due to logistical considerations as technically advised by the United Nations.

Multi-million Kwacha questions remain: was the message on these Christmas/New Year cards a prophecy that eventually came to pass or was it a mere wishful thinking? Will the nation ever know who was behind the circulation of these cards?

Feedback: p.chinguwo@historyofmalawi.com