Malawi Freedom Movement (MAFREMO) was an opposition political party that was established by Orton Chirwa in exile after he fled Malawi following the cabinet crisis of 1964.
It is said that on Christmas Eve of 1981, Orton Chirwa, his wife Vera and a son called Fumbani were visiting Zambia from Tanzania when they were abducted by Malawi’s security officials. What exactly happened that night remains a mystery. It is alleged that they were probably tricked into going to the border area (Chipata/Mchinji) to be ambushed.
Two years later, Orton and Vera were put on trial for treason after the son had been freed. Malawi’s legal system had tremendously changed since Orton Chirwa was dismissed as Attorney General and Justice Minister amidst the cabinet crisis of 1964. The two were tried before a ‘traditional’ court with judges directly answerable to Dr. Kamuzu Banda.
They were found guilty and sentenced to death. In 1984, after many appeals from governments and colleagues from their days as law students in London, Dr. Kamuzu Banda commuted their sentences to life imprisonment. Orton Chirwa died on 20th October 1992 at Zomba Prison while Vera Chirwa was released a year later.
Another notable cadre in MAFREMO was a journalist based in Lusaka called Mkwapatila Mhango. He was also the Publicity Secretary of MAFREMO.
On 13 October 1989 while Orton and Vera Chirwa were still in jail at Zomba Prison, Mkwapatira Mhango’s house in Lusaka was petrol bombed, killing 10 people in the house including his two wives and children one of which was a nine month old baby. Mkwapatila Mhango himself died at a hospital three days later. Immediately after the petrol bombing, Malawi Government quickly issued a public statement attributing the killing to internal feud within exiled opposition.
One can also talk about Winston Msowoya as another MAFREMO cadre. He left Malawi aged 17 on the 19th October 1964 to join compatriots in exile in the fight for democracy and human rights in Malawi. He had studied journalism in USSR before travelling to Cuba for military training in preparation for a long and protracted struggle against Dr. Kamuzu Banda.
He resided in Bulawayo from 1980 to 1985 organizing groups of Malawians into MAFREMO where under the request from Malawi security forces, he was arrested and put into Grey Prison in Bulawayo and subsequently transferred to Harare’s Central Prison.
While the Zimbabwe Government was about to deport him to Malawi where he was wanted for a treason trial on which Orton and Vera Chirwa had already been convicted, his friend Moletsi Mbeki (brother to former South Africa’s President Thabo Mbeki) and Amnesty International intervened against the extradition. He was then deported to Tanzania from where he finally moved to Canada where he has resided till today. He returned to Malawi for the first time on 19th October 1994.