The Cabinet Crisis of 1964 occurred in August/September 1964 barely two months after Malawi attained independence. It emanated from an irreconcilable rift between the Prime Minister, Dr. Hastings Banda (later Malawi’s first President) and his cabinet ministers.
Ordinary Malawians were taken by surprise to hear the former cabinet ministers, whom Dr Banda had fondly referred to as ‘my boys’, called ‘wild animals’ and ‘rebels’ who needed to be ‘destroyed at all costs.’
Subsequently the ‘rebel’ ministers and their sympathisers (mostly civil servants, some party officials and some MPs), were hunted down by the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) youth leaguers and Malawi Young Pioneer (MYP). As such they had to flee for their lives into exile (mainly to Tanzania and Zambia).
Many of these were the leading intellectuals and activists of the time who had been instrumental in paving the way for Dr. Banda Banda’s return to the country in 1958.
One major casualty of the 1964 cabinet crisis, was the free discussion of the political and economic history of the country and above all the production, documentation and dissemination of the history at large.
For almost 30 years since 1964, during national festivities when the political history of the country was expressed and re-enacted on radio, in news- papers, at national and local party gatherings and in schools, a version of history was presented that was specifically designed to personally please and glorify none other than Dr. Banda.
Dr. Banda’s role in decolonization of Malawi was highlighted at the expense of all those who had actively mobilized and agitated the masses long before D. Banda returned home in July 1958 such as the dissident cabinet ministers and other struggle icons who had fled into exile in the wake of the cabinet crisis of 1964.
For instance, to mention the names of the dissident cabinet ministers like Masauko Chipembere, Yatuta Chisiza, Orton Chirwa, Kanyama Chiume, Augustine Bwanausi etc anywhere even right in the homes was ‘illegal’ and could easily lead to one’s detention in one of the notorious camps that were mushrooming in the country. The important role of these figures in the anti-colonial struggle was being deliberately obliterated from the memories of Malawians.
Furthermore, the place of earlier freedom fighters, such as John Chilembwe and compatriots and the organizers and participants of the riots and civil disobedience of 1953 and 1958, were minimized even though they were expected to occupy a prominent position on Martyrs Day commemorations of 3rd March.
Further to this, when the University of Malawi opened in 1965, Dr. Banda’s own version of Malawi history was already being propagated. The history of Malawi course at the University of Malawi had to be taught selectively to avoid the intervention of the one party security machinery.
Even though the research interest of most of the first members of the Department of History at the newly established University of Malawi was in twentieth century Malawi, especially in nationalism, education and social change, there was a limit to which they could pursue their academic interrogations in this pursuit.
For instance, field academic research trips were monitored by the various security agencies, and informants were not prepared to risk being heard pronouncing the names of some of the political activists who were regarded as ‘rebels’ as far as Dr. Banda’s own version of the history which had become official was concerned.
To make the situation more difficult, access to the National Archives to conduct research, was extremely difficult, and few people were granted permission by the Office of the President to consult materials deposited there.
In addition, manuscripts which had benefited from the Government archives had to be cleared by, among others, the Ministry of Local Government, the Office of the President and the Censorship Board before they could be published.