Slightly over a century ago, Reverend John Chilembwe wrote the King of England to protest involvement of Africans in the First World War, which he felt had nothing to do with the black race. The epitome of Chilembwe’s letter was a question which still haunts our leaders today: “Are there any good prospects for the natives after this war”?
Chilembwe, the country’s first ever human rights defender, argued that the war would claim lives of his fellow Africans, leading to thousands of widows and fatherless children. Today, Chilembwe’s visionary crusade challenges most self-styled Malawian activists who use their bellies and not their brains.
Chilembwe forbade his troops from harming white women and children who were rounded up as prisoners of war.
He stood up to defend rights of wife and children to the cruel white settler, William Jarvis Livingstone, when Chilembwe’s army beheaded Livingstone.
The funny part with the issue of Livingstone, who the Nyasas (Malawians) corruptly called Lisitoni or Lisitonya, was that he died a fool’s death just like the Biblical Absalom.
Though notorious, Livingstone did not own any estate: he was just a manager at Bruce Estate! Today, every sector of our society has Lisitonyas. They talk too much but do too little or nothing at all. They let others do the donkey work but they get the credit.
Even in death, the Lisitonyas try to discriminate against the poor Malawians.
Pallbearers are forced to perform slow marches while funeral programmes for the oppressed Malawians are hurried as kunja nkwamvula uku (to beat the rains).
Chilembwe was resolute against tribalism and nepotism, traps most Malawians have fallen into. In their book titled “The Independent African” George Shepperson and Thomas Price state that Chilembwe fought for the founding of a nation “rather than restoring the fortress of tribes.”
This is true because Chilembwe’s uprising enjoyed the support of the Nyasas from all the regions led by their chiefs and leaders of African led churches, the Ethiopian Church, commonly called Mpingo wa Topiya among the Nyasas.
He showed servant leadership when he refused to dine with the oppressors, as our present day Lisitonyas do. It must be appreciated that Chilembwe, John Gray Kufa,
Duncan Njilima and others were not direct victims of the oppression.
These were men who had attained the level of education which the white man had. They were not buying groceries through a pigeon-hole as the rest of the Africans did and they had horses and guns just like the whites had. Need I say that they bought and sustained the horses using their hard earned cash and not government or church funds?
On January 14, 1897, Chilembwe teamed up with his spiritual father Joseph Booth,
Morrison Malinki and Alexander Dickie to pen Queen Victoria on their plan to uplift the living standards of the Africans. The plan detailed how they wanted to improve education and equality of men through the African leadership.
Between 1894 and 1895, Chilembwe responded to a racist poem by Robert Caldwell, a
Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, who argued that blacks deserved to be oppressed as the Bible talked about the sons of Ham and Sheth.
There is nothing that Chilembwe and his men did not do that our Lisitonyas are trying to do. Lord Chief Justice James John Skinner issued a detailed report on pegging salaries in the civil service. Our own, the late Justice Lewis Alexander Chatsika, also elaborated how we could motivate our civil servants. Today, we are still groping in the dark, trying to reform the public sector.
The colonialists advised us to build more technical colleges to plug forex drain.
The American Government even built us The Polytechnic to train tutors for the technical colleges. Instead, our Lisitonyas ran down the technical colleges and are now talking of training Standard Three drop-outs in community colleges.
Do we now know why no administration has been keen to locate Chilembwe’s grave at Esperanza in Mulanje?
The Lisitonyas do not want to immortalise Chilembwe because his ideas prick their conscious. Even when we attempt to celebrate Chilembwe’s life and sacrifices at his PIM Mission, the Lisitonyas come and fight each other, injuring us in the process. Despite ruthlessly collecting taxes, Lisitonya is telling Malawians to buy first-line drugs for their chemotherapy, Malawians with albinism are being hunted down like wild pigs, poor but hardworking Malawians fail to be productive because Lisitonya is withholding electricity. As we celebrate the life of Chilembwe on Monday, well-meaning Malawians are still wondering whether there are any good prospects for them after Chilembwe’s sacrifice