History Of Malawi

The Lenten Pastoral Letter of March 1992 by Catholic Bishops

Amidst state apparatus of repression, growing discontent against the tyrannical one-party regime led to the formation of a small and loose but active underground opposition movement right inside Malawi prior to 1991. From this underground opposition movement, two anonymous epistles emerged in the month of February 1992 which were clandestinely circulated in Malawi.

However, the first open criticism against the one-party state inside Malawi since the promulgation of the 1966 constitution that outlawed all political parties except the ruling Malawi Congress Party, was a 11 paged pastoral letter signed by seven Catholic bishops which was read out on Sunday the 8th March 1992 in catholic churches across the country.

Entitled Living Our Faith, the pastoral letter among others, raised several critical issues such as: increasing inequality between the rich and the poor; the spread of corruption; serious flaws within the education system; cutbacks in health-care, no respect for human rights and justice by the state.

The then Life President Dr. Kamuzu Banda reacted furiously to the pastoral letter having met the bishops at state house a few days earlier. On the state broadcaster MBC radio on Monday the 9th March 1992, he made scathing remarks against the bishops:

I was shocked to see that the very same bishops who had praised me to the sky, saying they were praying for me said the opposite two or three days later. That is double crossing! Is that Christianity? Would Jesus Christ do a thing like that?”

On Tuesday 10th March 1992, after being detained at Kanjedza Police Station in Blantyre for 8 hours, the bishops were put under house arrest at the Arch-bishop Chiona’s residence in Blantyre.

On Wednesday 11th March 1992, a press statement was issued by the Inspector General of Police declaring the pastoral letter a seditious material and sternly warned the general public against circulation and possession of the pastoral letter.

What was so remarkable about the pastoral letter is that the preparation, printing and distribution were done in conditions of strict secrecy by a committee appointed by the bishops. It was read at all masses throughout the country to unsuspecting congregations on the Sunday morning of the 8th March 1992.

Most of the Catholics within the ruling party and Malawi Police (including those in the top leadership) heard about the pastoral letter for the first time during a mass that Sunday morning while the non-Catholics got the wind about it from their Catholic counterparts after the church services.

Feedback: p.chinguwo@historyofmalawi.com

© Lost History Foundation (2019).

Comments are closed.