The family of the late Chakufwa Chihana has rejected a proposal by Malawi President Joyce Banda to exhume his body from Mzuzu for reburial at a national heroes’ acre in the capital, Lilongwe.
Paramount Chief Chikulamayembe of Rumphi has since backed the family’s decision to turn down the proposal, saying exhuming and reburying the body would be a taboo in the Tumbuka culture.
During Martyr’s Day commemorations in Nkhata Bay on March 3 2013, President Banda proposed that people who fought for the country’s freedom and independence should be buried at a national heroes’ acre.
She proposed that Chihana’s body be part of the heroes’ acre upon consultations with his family.
In an exclusive interview with Nation on Sunday during the week, Minister of Youth and Sports Enoch Chihana, who is also the late Chihana’s son, said the family stood its ground that Katoto in Mzuzu would remain his burial site.
He said the current resting place for the departed president of Alliance for Democracy (Aford) holds high value and significance as it is associated with his political career and the fight for democracy in Malawi.
“As an alternative, the family proposed that there should be a symbolic tomb at the national heroes’ acre. Those who wish will honour him at the heroes’ acre or at Katoto in Mzuzu,” said Chihana.
Should this happen, it means the late Chihana, who died in 2006, will have two graves.
In supporting the family’s decision on the proposal, Chikulamayembe said the Tumbuka culture frowns upon the idea of exhuming and reburying a body.
But the Tumbuka paramount chief said there is nothing wrong in having a symbolic tomb at the proposed heroes’ acre besides the one at Katoto.
“We are grateful to government and the President for coming up with the idea of a heroes’ acre. It is a good idea, but our culture does not allow us to exhume bodies,” he said.
The twist to the issue comes at a time government has approved K420 million for construction of Chihana’s mausoleum which is to begin ‘any time this year,’ according to the minister.
“The construction will be done in phases considering the financial status of the country. The design is similar to late Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda mausoleum only that the late Aford leader’s is smaller in size.
“We will be handing the grave soon to government, but in the meantime, it is the family that is taking care of it. We look into electricity bills and maintaining the site which costs in the range of K100 000 [about $250] to K150 000 [about $375] per month. The area is also patrolled by police, but is not fully guarded,” said Chihana.
Government spokesperson Moses Kunkuyu on Saturday refused to comment on the family’s position, saying a comprehensive proposal on the issue has not yet been developed.
The late Chihana was one of the freedom fighters during the transition from one-party State to multiparty democracy in the early 1990s.
He served as second vice-president in the Bakili Muluzi administration.