Age and chronic illnesses killed Gwanda Chakuamba, but the time-honoured political heavyweight from the Lower Shire Valley has immortalised his dramatic life story with astonishing confessions that will thrill many readers.
The deceased politician, who held several Cabinet positions and commanded the paramilitary Malawi Young Pioneers (MYP) before he was jailed for sedition in 1980, was gearing to release Malignant Loyalty—No Regrets “anytime” when he was hospitalised at Blantyre Adventist Hospital (BAH) in Blantyre last week, says his aide Moses Dossi.
The autobiography, presented by Dr Felix Lombe, has stirred massive interest from those yearning to know more about the enigmatic veteran who retired this year after serving political parties, including two which he founded after breaking away from his first love, Malawi Congress Party (MCP).
The mention of a political nomad and loyalty in the same sentence is supposed to be an oxymoron, but Lombe tells On the Arts that working with Chakuamba for three years has proved beyond a doubt that Gwanda was entirely loyal to Kamuzu, MCP and his beliefs.
In an interview on Sunday, he said: “This is the story of total loyalty. The loyalty in question is one that led him into detention and several setbacks that he suffered throughout his five decades in politics. It is the type of loyalty that begins small and grows really big.
“It is called malignant because it is like cancer. When it attacks the toes, it will spread to the rest of the body unless the affected part is removed. At the end of the 320-page book, Chakuamba says: ‘I have no regrets’. He is at peace with himself.”
According to Lombe, Chakuamba had already signed off 10 chapters and was only remaining with the epilogue before his death yesterday.
On the biography, the deceased reportedly gives “brutal confessions” and “funny accounts of his blunders”, including his childhood adventures, his on-and-off political sojourns, working with founding president Kamuzu Banda, a switch to Kamuzu’s successor Bakili Muluzi and encounters with his famous archenemy John Tembo.
However, the former Nsanje North legislator, whom Muluzi sensationally accused of killing a Solobala of Nsanje and beating Chief Chikowi and other traditional leaders, delves into his “dark past” and bares his role in the atrocities committed at the height of one-party rule.
However, his loyalty took the shape of fanaticism for Kamuzu and MCP when he walked free in July 1993, barely weeks after Malawians had elected multiparty politics in a referendum that ended 31-year monopolistic rule of the “life president” he terms “my father”.
Following his release, he stunned Malawians when he joined Muluzi’s United Democratic Front (UDF) and quickly rejoined the party that threw him in jail where he lost slightly over two decades of his productive years.
His chosen biographer reveals: “Chakuamba so loved Kamuzu that he could not decline when he was approached to go back to MCP. Throughout his years in jail, he believed that Kamuzu loved him too much to throw him in there. Actually, he still does not believe Kamuzu was involved.”
Oral history has it that the sedition charges were actually concocted by his main enemy.
But Chakuamba effortlessly forgave and forgot “the lost decades” when the liberation party’s ‘talking computer’ Dr Hetherwick Ntaba and folk orator Wadson Deleza, told him Kamuzu wanted him to lead the oldest party in the new era.
He was named MCP secretary general and later leader of a triumvirate that summarily ran the country when Kamuzu jetted off to South Africa for specialist medical attention.
However, Lombe revealed the book tells an inside story that might sound ironic to most Malawians: The move to recall him was actually engineered by his arch-rival.
“Actually, they had a pact that Tembo would never run for presidency. Every time he challenged him, Chakuamba was surprised. At that time, MCP wanted a person who knew the party very well, but was not associated with its dark past. Besides, he had a big following to challenge UDF in the South,” he says.
The icing came in February 1995 when a deteriorating Kamuzu endorsed Chakuamba to run as MCP presidential candidate in the next polls.
However, he lost the June 15 1999 polls despite joining forces with Alliance for Democracy (Aford) founding tsar, the late Chakufwa Thom Chihana.
The loss marked the beginning of the end of his days in MCP as the re-emergence of the spat with the famous foe—which actually runs for 50 pages of the autobiography—loomed large.
Tembo, who subtly used Chakuamba’s time at the helm to prop his image for presidency, quickly weighed in and Chakuamba moved on to form Republic Party (RP) in 2004.
The RP strongman’s ambitious race to presidency slumped in controversial style in 2004 when he led the ostensibly popular Mgwirizano Coalition, but came third-best behind UDF victor Bingu wa Mutharika.
His supporters were still protesting the loss he had challenged in court when Chakuamba appeared on television hang out at Muluzi’s BCA Hill Residence.
He later withdrew the case, announced deregistration of RP and defected to Bingu’s newly formed Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) following his appointment as Minister of Agriculture in February 2005.
His ministerial tenure lasted just about seven months, forcing him to revert to RP, but resistance in the party pushed him to found the New Republican Party.
He finally retired from the only career he has known since 1964 early this year at Nchalo in Chikwawa where he pledged to “die serving DPP and [the incumbent] President Peter Mutharika”.
However, Malignant Loyalty—No Regret brings to light what politicians do in the night.
Lombe says: “Working with Gwanda has shown me politicians don’t sleep when we go to bed. They work really hard to achieve what they want and meeting the people we think they hate. We sleep too much and that is why we are poor.”
The biographer, currently chief executive officer of Africa Institute of Corporate Citizenship (AICC), counts it an honour that Chakuamba was politically a “spent force” with nothing to lose when he approached him.
But he says: “I would have declined if he had come to me in 1994 or 1999 when he was a political heavyweight. Obviously, some readers would have misconstrued this book as propaganda.” n