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Comrade Stewart Nkolokosa: Unsung Workers’ Rights Icon & National Freedom Fighter! – History Of Malawi
History Of Malawi

Comrade Stewart Nkolokosa: Unsung Workers’ Rights Icon & National Freedom Fighter!

Comrade Stewart Nkolokosa, born on 18th February 1928 in Blantyre at a place where Nkolokosa residential area is located today, is one unsung hero of Malawi who had dedicated his life to fight for workers’ rights and freedom the country at large.

Soon after completing grade 6 at Malamulo Mission in Thyolo, he proceeded to do a two-year teachers’ course at the same mission. In 1950, instead of pursuing a career in teaching, he picked up a job at the treasury department in Zomba as a clerk.

A year later, he switched to customs’ department in Limbe before moving to Chiponde in Namwera. In 1954, he was posted to work at the customs office in Blantyre where he picked up a fierce quarrel with his racist white boss.

Because he could not withstand the racist attitude of his boss, he resigned and in the same year he was offered a job by Nyasaland Railways as a security officer. It was at Nyasaland Railways where he was exposed to trade unionism and eventually became a top trade union leader.

Having shown outstanding leadership qualities on the onset, while travelling to Salima on official duties, a congress for the Nyasaland Railways African Workers’ Union which was underway elected him President in absentia.

In June 1956, Comrade Stewart Nkolokosa was one of the founding fathers of the fore-runner of Malawi Congress of Trade Unions (MCTU) called the Trade Union Congress of Nyasaland (TUCN).

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 Nyasaland emanating from protracted demonstrations by Africans agitating for the demise of both the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland and the colonial rule.

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.

Comrade Stewart Nkolokosa was among a few trade unionists who were arrested on suspicion that they had agitated the workers to rise against the colonial government through strikes and riots in support of the nationalist cause championed by NAC.

He was sent to Kanjedza Prison in Limbe where he met with other nationalists such as Willie Chokani, the Bwanausi brothers, David Rubadiri among others.

In 1961, after being released from jail, he relocated to Thyolo district where he set up structures of the Plantations Agriculture Workers Union and became its first General Secretary.

In 1962, Comrade Stewart Nkolokosa became the President of Nyasaland Trade Union Congress (NTUC). The following year at a congress, he was elected the Secretary General of NTUC, a position which saw him travelling to several cities across the world including Brussels and Geneva to attend international conferences and workshops representing the workers of Nyasaland.

Barely two months after attaining independence on 6th July 1964, Malawi experienced a cabinet crisis. Trade unions which had felt greatly sidelined by the post-colonial government for some time took a stance in support of the ex-ministers.

In November 1964, after being tipped of his impending arrest for associating and siding with ex-ministers, Comrade Stewart Nkolokosa as Secretary General of Trade Union Congress of Malawi (TUCM) sneaked out of the country to a neighboring Zambia where he stayed for almost 30 years as an asylum seeker separated from his wife and children one whom later became a renowned journalist in Malawi by the name of Jika Nkolokosa.

To be continued…..

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