By Nathan Chiume, September 24, 2020 .
Today marks 45 years since the passing of Henry Masauko Chipembere in California, USA in 1975. Masauko was perhaps Kanyama Chiume’s closest political ally, a friend and his comrade in arms, a fellow “Young Turk” (who together with Dunduzu Chisiza), are among those most credited for revitalizing and re-energizing the NAC political movement, propelling it forward in the fight for independence of Nyasand from early 1950s before Kamuzu Banda’s arrival into the scene in 1958.
Masauko and Kanyama met for the first time in Blantyre in December, 1954. It was Augustine Bwanausi who brought them together at the joint meeting of the alumni from Fort Hare and Makerere. Augustine was another close associate of Kanyama, the two of them being close friends from the time they were both students at Makerere, Uganda. Now back in Nyasaland after graduating that same year, Bwanausi was teaching and leading the Nyasaland Student Association in Blantyre that organized the meeting.
Masauko had just returned to Nyasaland from Fort Hare, South Africa that year. Kanyama – who was Chair of Makerere student alumni from Nyasaland – had also returned to Nyasaland that same year from Tanganyika after quitting his teaching job to return home to fight for independence. Dunduzu would also return home around this time after graduating in Uganda.
The links forged between the former students from Fort Hare and Makerere when they all returned to Nyasaland in 1954 and how they were absorbed into NAC, then be able to revitalize it and take it over from previously unpopular leadership remains one of the most remarkable stories in the journey towards an independent Malawi.
Around this time in 1954, Masauko, Kanyama and Augustine would live under the same roof in Blantyre together with their new wives. They all shared a home, and they would leave their wives behind for weeks and months as they went around the country to campaign for independence and against the Central Africa Federation, which they saw as a new form of Apartheid system taking root in Nyasaland.
Masauko and Kanyama also traveled outside the country in their quest to free Nyasaland (as seen in this picture on their way to United States). They eventually played a key role in inviting Kamuzu Banda back to Nyasaland in 1958 to lead their movement into independence. They had already done all the hard work, they just needed a scorer who could finish the job and avoid any obstacles that the British colonialists were trying to place in front of them to avoid granting the independence sooner. The British said the two were too young (in their late 20s), too radical and too pro-African to be trusted.
It was because of reasons like these and others, that a compromise to invite back the 60 year old Kamuzu was agreed within NAC. But they accepted this compromise out of their selflessness and doing what is needed to bring independence faster without any further delay.
Once self-government was achieved, they were part of the first majority African government as cabinet ministers. Kanyama was Nyasaland first Minister of Education, a position Masauko took over just before Malawi became independent in 1964. In the run up to the cabinet crisis that year, Masauko was outside the country when the crisis came to head, but upon return to Nyasaland and after consulting with Kanyama, he was convinced to join the rebel ministers, much to Kamuzu’s dismay.
After the crisis, Kanyama escaped to exile in Tanzania where Masauko joined him briefly after his armed rebellion before going to USA. While in Tanzania, they formed the first recognized official opposition party against Kamuzu’s regime, the Pan African Democratic Party (PDP), which lasted until Masauko’s passing in 1975. Thereafter, Kanyama formed the Congress for the Second Republic of Malawi (CSR). While Masauko launched an armed rebellion in Malindi after cabinet crisis; from Tanzania, Kanyama became master of infiltration of banned materials and propaganda into Malawi in the effort to destabilize the growing brutal regime Kamuzu was leading.
The friendship between Masauko and Kanyama endured the distance between them, one in Tanzania and another in the US. They were friends to the end. That bond is still reflected among their family members today. Even though they were torn away and apart, they have maintained the deep bonds their father’s built.
May the Souls of these Revolutionary Fathers of the Malawi Nation Rest in Power.