History Of Malawi

Over 1000 Political Prisoners Released By June 1977.

During a press conference held on 30th June 1978, Malawi’s Life President Dr. Kamuzu Banda claimed that all political prisoners in Malawi had been released as of 4th June 1977.

Among those present at the press conference were nine journalists from Time Magazine, BBC Radio/TV, London Times, Financial Times, Reuters and UPI. They had been granted clearance to cover the Parliamentary Elections held on 29th June 1978 and the Independence Day celebrations from 1 to 6 July 1978.

Among over 1000 political detainees released as of June 1977 from Mikuyu Prison were: Victor Ndovie who had worked for the Times newspaper and jailed in 1973; Veteran Trade Unionist Chakufwa Chihana who was jailed in 1971 after being a fugitive in exile; Alec Nyasulu who was a former speaker of the National Assembly; Sam Mpasu who had briefly served in the diplomatic service and jailed in 1975.

Also on this list was a man called James Chirwa who had left Nyasaland during the colonial era for greener pastures in South Africa where around 1961/62, he was in the initial cohorts of recruits into Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) the armed wing of the African National Congress (ANC) under Nelson Mandela as commander. He visited a number of countries for his military training and was finally nabbed in mid 1960s on his way to South Africa for an operation.

Just like Nelson Mandela previously, he was tried for acts of treason, convicted to life imprisonment and jailed at Robben Island. Having been a foreigner, his jail sentence was commuted to 10 years. In 1975, upon his release from Robben Island, James Chirwa was immediately deported to Malawi where he was arrested by special branch police as he landed at Chileka Airport under orders from Dr. Kamuzu Banda and thrown to Mikuyu Prison.

However, the elder brother of former Cabinet Minister Masauko Chipembere called Arthur Chipembere who was detained in August 1965, was not among those released as of June 1977. He became paralyzed and un-able to walk and eventually died in jail.

There were also three men who were detained without trial since the mid-1960s until around 1993 namely: Nelson Mtambo, Sidney Songo and Ntwana Mlombwa. These three men were reportedly arrested in the aftermath of an abortive armed rebellion led by Masauko Chipembere against Dr. Kamuzu Banda government which was staged in February 1965.

It is not established if Nelson Mtambo, Sidney Songo and Ntwana Mlombwa were indeed actively involved in the Chipembere led armed rebellion. However, what is known is that Nelson Mtambo was a cook employed by Masauko Chipembere while Sidney Songo and Ntwana Mlombwa hailed from Chipembere’s home village in Mangochi.

In the wake of Cabinet Crisis of 1964, the Preventive Detention Act (1964) and the Public Security Regulations Act (1965) were used to indefinitely detain without trial anyone considered to have harbored dissenting or alternative views to Dr. Kamuzu Banda’s.

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