By Conleith Selenje
In a fervent speech broadcasted on the sole national broadcaster, MBC, Kamuzu Banda labelled them ‘Witnesses of the devil’
Following the principle of non allegiance to earthly political groupings, the Jehovah’s Witnesses collided with the Malawi Government under the one party regime in 1964 when it’s members refused to register in the voters’ role prior to the elections that year.
The then Malawi Congress Party accused the Jehovah’s Witnesses of displaying treachery and pervasive activities coercing Malawians not to be members of the party,The Malawi Congress.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses did not relent.
Later in October in 1967 the accusations levelled against the Jehovah’s Witnesses increased in gravity.
Apart from being accused of refusing to register in the voters’ role, they were also accused of refusing to pay tax and refusing to buy party cards.
During this time party cards were a symbol of loyalty to the Ngwazi and membership to the Malawi Congress Party which was at the time ranked higher than the government itself.
The religious beliefs of the Jehovah’s Witnesses disallowed such allegiance.
In the same month of October 1967,Kamuzu Banda issued an edict. The religious group was officially banned. By 1973 a large number of the Jehovah’s Witnesses fled to neighbouring countries of Zambia and Mozambique’s remnants in Malawi suffered arrests, loss of property, beatings and harassment for belonging to a banned religious group.
By 1977 the one party regime had released most of the Jehovah’s Witnesses prisoners of conscience and a good number of those in exile had had returned but practised their faith with fear and caution.
After a long period of enduring faith, the 1992 to 1994 Wind of Political Change blew over Malawi and multiparty democracy brought in the Freedom of Conscience to the country.
The 30 year old prison of conscience was broken down.