History Of Malawi

DECLARATION OF STATE OF EMERGENCY ON 3RD MARCH 1959.

Founding President of Malawi Congress Party, Orton Chirwa.

The return of Dr. Kamuzu Banda to Nyasaland on 6th July 1958 was followed by a wave of lawlessness and violence in some parts of the country emanating from protracted demonstrations by Africans agitating for hastened constitutional changes towards the demise of both the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland and the colonial rule.

The colonial government had gathered some intelligence to the effect that the Nyasaland African Congress (NAC) was planning genocide of Europeans in Nyasaland as allegedly resolved at the NAC’s ‘Bush Meeting’ held on 25th January 1959 at Kanjedza Forest in Blantyre.

In order to restore law and order, a few minutes after the midnight on 3rd March 1959, the Governor of Nyasaland Sir Robert Armitage, declared a state of emergency across the country. He also issued an immediate ban on the NAC which culminated to the detention of the President-General of NAC Dr. Kamuzu Banda, the executive committee members, district and branch officials at prisons in Nyasaland and Southern Rhodesia. A total of 51 Africans were killed and the number of detentions increased to 1300.

Within two days after the Declaration of the State of Emergency, British cabinet took a decision to set up a commission of inquiry chaired by a high court judge Sir Patrick Devlin. The mandate of the Commission was to enquire the disturbances in Nyasaland and the events leading up to them.

According to Colin Cameron who later served in Dr. Kamuzu Banda’s first cabinet at independence in 1964, it was during the state of emergency amidst the banning of the NAC and detention of NAC’s leaders that two teachers in Blantyre namely: Shadrack Khonje and Augustine Mthambala coordinated the efforts exploring the possibilities of establishing a new political party that came to exist from September 1959 as the Malawi Congress Party with Orton Chirwa and Aleke Banda as founding President and Secretary General respectively.

Around August in 1959, two Nyasas came to meet with me in my house at Kabula Hill in Blantyre to discuss a proposal of theirs to set up a new Nationalist Party. They wished me, as a lawyer, to check their proposed new Constitution so that it did not fall foul of the Emergency Regulations. The two men with this initiative were both well known to me – one, Shadrack Khonje and the second was Augustine Nthambala.

First of all I examined whether the Emergency Regulation contained any prohibitions of setting up a new and similar party and whether there were any provisions under which you could construe the new one to the old and therefore it be illegal too. Fortunately, no problem was found, and I said that from a legal point of view “go ahead and best of luck”. -Colin Cameron (2018)

On can therefore conclude that it was the declaration of state of emergency on 3rd March 1959 that compelled the freedom fighters who had survived detentions to commence the deliberations that culminated to the establishment of a new party called MCP.

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© Lost History Foundation (2019).

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