Renewed efforts to rewrite history have revived demands for the Malawi Government to disclose where its agents buried former Cabinet minister Yatuta Chisiza who was killed in an armed combat 51 years ago.
Yatuta, a former minister of Internal Affairs during founding president Hastings Kamuzu Banda’s administration, led 17 exiles in a military incursion in October 1967, just four years after fleeing the country in the 1964 Cabinet revolt against Kamuzu.
On Saturday, Frank Jiya, the sole survivor among Yatuta’s combatants from Tanzania, lifted the lid on how their leader, brandishing an earth-shaking bazooka, was gunned down by soldiers from Cobbe Barracks in the hilly forests near the confluence of the Shire and Lisungwi rivers in the southern border district of Mwanza.
In his flashbacks at a day-long seminar organised by The Lost History Foundation and Chancellor College’s Young Patriots in Zomba, the remnant said the exiles at war were not rebels as portrayed by Kamuzu’s propaganda machinery, but patriots who embarked on the risky mission to ensure no one run the country like a personal estate.
The casualties on Yatuta’s side included Luteghano Mwahimba, but the number of Malawi Defence Force (MDF) soldiers killed is not known although Jiya said some died and no one came in sight when Yatuta reportedly “opened fire, spraying bullets and cleared everything in front of me”.
Jiya said he survived alongside George Kanyanya and Stennings Msiska. He said they retreated to Zambia without surrendering.
According to the ex-combatant, Yatuta told his army during the infiltration from Tanzania through Zambia and Mozambique that he rued Kamuzu and the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) administration for killing his brother, Dunduzu, whose cream-coloured Mercedes Benz was found in Thondwe River in Zomba in 1964.
Two years ago, President Peter Mutharika laid a wreath on Dunduzu’s grave near Paramount Chief Kyungu’s court in Kasoba, Karonga, where he urged the youth to be fearless and patriotic like the Chisiza brothers and their contemporaries.
However, the Chisiza family wants government to end their long wait for closure by disclosing the burial place of Yatuta, whose body and Mwahimba’s were put in the open at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital (QECH) for public viewing and rebuke.
According to veteran journalist Alaudin Osman, who broke the story of the Malawi army’s triumph in the brief war, the decking of the bodies at QECH was meant to assert Kamuzu’s invincibility.
“It was staged not to pay the last respects to the dead, but to instill fear in the living. Actually, there was a police officer standing next to the bodies, telling those who came to view the bodies: ‘Pamwamba ndi Mwahimba, pansi ndi Yatuta Chisiza [Lying on top is Mwahimba and down there is Chisiza].
“The message was clear: If Kamuzu has crashed a rebellion by a police officer, his former minister of home affairs, who would challenge him?”
As historians and witnesses shared fine details censored by the dictator, former minister of Justice Bazuka Mhango said it is ironic that government cannot pinpoint where they interred his uncle’s body five decades after the body was whisked away from the traumatising public display.
Speaking for the Chisiza family, he stated: “In our cultural setting, we need a proper and dignified funeral. For many years, we have been pleading with government to locate the grave where Yatu was buried, but nothing has happened.
“We need to locate the grave, have the remains exhumed and proceed to give Yatu a dignifying burial at a family cemetery in Karonga. He died for a good cause. He was our hero.
“He did not die outside the country. Surely, government must have a system to know where its citizens are buried. Yatu’s body was in their hands. His body was laid for public viewing in Blantyre and then whisked him to a burial place they cannot remember 25 years after the dawn of democracy.”
The lawyer wants the public lecture to become an annual memorial for patriots to send a strong message that they are concerned with undemocratic tendencies which recur.
In attendance was Yatuta’s second-born son, Kwacha, who said in an interview at the “informative lecture” that growing up in exile and being denied a chance to pay last respects to their father was traumatising.
He said: “Life in exile was never easy for the family, but it was not less traumatising for family members who remained behind. They were constantly on the run, being secretly spied upon and some of them were detained without trial. It is pleasing that young people are coming forward to dig the history which was concealed for many years.”
Yatuta disagreed with Kamuzu together with Henry Masauko Chipembere, Orton Chirwa, Kanyama Chiume, Augustine Bwanausi, Willy Chokani and Rose Chibambo.
Mwahimba’s widow, Mary, never had a honeymoon as her wedding on September 9 1964 was disrupted by attacks on Chirwa’s vehicle and Rose Chibambo’s home.
The nurse, together with Jiya, blamed the harsh aftermaths of the revolt on the ministers’ thirst for power.
“Banda offered to resign on the eve of the Cabinet Crisis, but nobody wanted the other to be the leader. This jealousy continued when they fled the country. In Malawi, we don’t love each other,” she said, adding her husband was principled, not a traitor or chigawenga as portrayed by the one-party regime.
Concurring, Human Rights Consultative Committee (HRCC) chairperson Robert Mkwezalamba said a better Malawi is possible.
“Change begins with us. If you don’t take interest in the affairs of government, you are doomed to be ruled by fools,” he said.
Political scientist Professor Happy Kayuni said the country was stuck in the pitfalls of Kamuzu’s leadership style because of “politics of chameleon” which emerged following the Cabinet Crisis.
Said the head of Political and Administrative Studies Department at Chancellor College: “The Kamuzu cult project was created by Kanyama and Chipembere to liberate Malawi with Kamuzu as their front. They praised him highly and gave him a lot of titles.”
Chester Chilenje, from the Lost History Foundation, said tracing the grave proved tricky as Malawi Prison Service legal officer Bazilio Chapuwala told him 1967 is too long ago and a fenced private home is taking shape on a gravesite near Zomba Mental Hospital where an archivist Samuel Chiotha, 75, said prisoners were buried in the 1960s. n