Malawi Congress Party (MCP) leader Lazarus Chakwera on Saturday took advantage of the funeral of freedom fighter and first female minister Rose Chibambo to ask for forgiveness for atrocities committed during the one-party rule.
Chibambo spanned three decades in exile at the height of the 31-year-old reign of the country’s oldest party which was blighted by arbitrary detentions, killings, expulsions and disappearances of those opposed to founding president Hastings Kamuzu Banda.
There was no better setting for atonement than the funeral of Chibambo, a fearless fighter who was expelled shortly after she played a starring role in the independence struggle–and mourners clapped and ululated as an emotional Chakwera asked for mercy once more.
Chibambo, who succumbed to a heart attack on Monday at Mwaiwathu Hospital in Blantyre, was hugely eulogised for rallying women to take part in the fight against British colonial administration and the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland.
A flag-draped casket carrying the remains of the heroine of the emancipation battle lied in state at St Andrews CCAP when Chakwera asked Malawians to finally bury the bloody memories associated with his party.
“What happened in the past cannot be changed,” Chakwera said, explaining: “It’s time Malawians accepted what happened to people like the one we are burying today [and atrocities committed] should be forgiven and forgotten. As we mourn this heroine that I respect in my personal capacity, please know that we mourn like you.”
But Chancellor College-based analyst Edge Kanyongolo said the forgiveness must be preceded by confession.
“ That [the MCP apology] is a good step, but forgiveness must be preceded by a full confession. That’s what we are lacking as many people have not come forward to confess what they did during the atrocities. People who suffered at the hands of MCP rule are willing to forgive, but those who victimised Malawians do not seem willing to confess all that they did during Kamuzu’s rule.
The MCP president was not among those scheduled to speak at the funeral but was handed the microphone following an announcement by Livingstonia Synod moderator, the Reverend Douglas Chipofya.
Equally sidelined was People’s Party President Uladi Mussa who asked government to put aside funds for the welfare of people who sacrificed their lives for the good of the nation.
Uladi was seemingly responding to revelations by lawyer Bazuka Mhango that government had abdicated its promise to give Chirambo a retirement package following her return from Zambia in 1994.
Mhango was a member of the inactive National Truth and Reconciliation Committee.
In his eulogy, he said: “I was among those that welcomed her at Kamuzu International Airport and drove her to Ekwendeni where people ululated, sang songs and danced, but the planned retirement token for Chibambo has sadly eluded the past three presidents.”
Government immortalised the fallen freedom fighter by putting her face on the K200 banknote and naming one of Mzuzu City’s streets after her.
The 300m Rose Chibambo Crescent takes travellers on M1 straight to St Andrews where the deceased used to pray.
Her daughter Gadi, who spent her babyhood in prison when the fearless patriot was detained at Zomba Maximum Prison by colonial forces, saluted her life of prayer and iconic role in the battle for self-rule when women had no voice.
Equally lyrical was Vice- President Saulos Chilima who described her stints in prison and exile as marks of a true patriot.
Wiping out teardrops, Gadi, garbed in black, read her mother’s note in which she confesses delving into politics in 1952 to “help our men achieve what we loved most”—independence from Britain.
Chibambo’s son-in-law, Zambian ambassador Bizwayo Nkunika, who spent 27 years with her in the neighbouring country, described the woman on the K200 banknote as a humble patriot who taught them to remain steadfast in prayer.
The hero was buried with full military honours on public land near Admarc Regional Offices in Mzuzu, ending family-based disagreements over her final destination that threatened to mar the funeral. n