History Of Malawi

The Kawale Massacre of March 1990

Probably one of the most outrageous mass killings of human beings ever committed by the state in Malawi since the colonial era, is a massacre which happened on 18th March 1990 at Kawale in the Capital City of Lilongwe which went unreported by the media inside the country. More than 20 protesters were shot dead by armed police.

After Dr. Kamuzu Banda consolidated his grip on Malawi after the cabinet crisis of 1964, this is probably the first instance in which ordinary citizens at a community level gallantly mobilised themselves to stage a protest to express their discontentment.

According to the Human Rights Watch Report (1990) entitled Where Silence Rules: Suppression of Dissent in Malawi, the protest by the residents of Kawale, was sparked by the reluctance of the Police to arrest and prosecute a local businessman called Mr. Lamba who had murdered a Mozambican national then employed by him as a truck driver.  Mr. Lamba as the employer, had accused the migrant worker to have stolen a bag of maize.

There were reports of Mr. Lamba having bribed the Police so that he should not be brought to book. He had also been alleged to have previously bribed the Police on several occasions for similar crimes. 

In reaction to this, the residents of Kawale resorted to conduct a demonstration to protest against:

1.       Xenophobic killing by Mr. Lamba;

2.       Failure by the Police to swiftly apprehend Mr. Lamba;

3.       Impunity and corruption (Police allegedly getting bribes from Mr. Lamba to shield him from prosecution);

4.       Gross infringement of the migrant worker’s rights.

The migrant worker’s body was to be handed over to the local party branch in Kawale since the deceased had no family in Malawi. Party officials sensing popular discontent, refused to accept the body.

On 18th March, the ambulance carrying the migrant worker’s dead body set off heading to the mortuary at Kamuzu Central Hospital under police armed guard.

Angry people threw stones at the police convoy and the police responded by opening fire with live bullets, killing more than 20 and injuring several others. Many of those killed and injured, were passers-by who had nothing to do with the protest.

Feedback: p.chinguwo@historyofmalawi.com

© Lost History Foundation (2019).

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