It is unusual for the congregation to clap hands in unison after a prayer has been offered. But this was the peculiar scenario at Providence Industrial Mission (PIM) where people from all walks of life gathered to celebrate the centenary of the Reverend John Chilembwe in January this year.
Dishing out benediction of peace, Reverend Fletcher Kaiya caught the attention of the congregation when he asked government to consider building a tarmac road to connect PIM from Limbe-Chiradzulu Boma Road or from Nguludi to PIM to ease mobility.
Members of the congregation, which comprised people from different denominations, politicians and government officials, clapped hands immediately after the prayer to add weight to Kayiya’s solemn appeal.
“The reverend has hammered a nail on its head. I feel development in this area has moved at a snail’s pace because the area is not accessible through a tarmac road,” one member of the congregation was overheard whispering to his colleague.
To get to PIM, situated in the central part of Chiradzulu District, one has to travel through an earth road which becomes impassable during rainy season. Indeed, PIM is a small area, but big and rich in history.
PIM goes down to the annals of Malawi’s history because its father and founder, Chilembwe, led an uprising in 1915 when most African natives were in their political slumber to protest against oppressive governance system perpetrated by white settlers.
Chilembwe, who was born in 1871, defied all odds to go to America when he was 26 with missionary Joseph Booth in 1897 where he studied at Virginia Theological College and obtained bachelor of arts and bachelor of theology degrees in 1898. Armed with a cornucopia of knowledge, Chilembwe returned home and bought 94 hectares of land in Sub-Traditional Authority Onga (ST/A) in Chiradzulu and successfully established PIM in 1900, almost 20 kilometers from the Boma.
Poor governance system characterised by brutality on natives forced Chilembwe to rebel against the despotic colonial government. He did not want to kowtow to the whims of the white settlers which impinged on natives’ inalienable rights.
He, therefore, led the Chilembwe Uprising in 1915 in protest against the human rights abuses which the white settlers perpetrated on the natives. He particularly protested against unfair wages on blacks, unfair treatment of black workers in white owned estates and conscription of Africans to fight in the First World War in Europe.
Sadly, the uprising led to his untimely death in February 1915.
It is this distinct history that makes everyone who has never been to PIM habour an illusion that the place is more advanced in infrastructure development as compared to other religious institutions that were established in 1900 by white missionaries.
However, the place has seen little development required for humankind to lead a decent and comfortable life albeit 100 years passed since the death of the reverend Chilembwe.
Nevertheless, in recognition of the role Chilembwe played in initiating the process of attaining self rule, government which rehabilitated Chilembwe Memorial Tower, declared January 15 as a public holiday to celebrate the life of the great son of Malawi every year.
PIM whose church tentacles have reached as far as South Africa, Zambia, Mozambique and Zimbabwe, brags of constructing a health facility and secondary school to improve social services within its vicinity.
Speaking on the final day of the celebrations on January 17 2015, whose theme was ‘Building Malawi Together’ Mutharika responded to Kaiya’s appeal. “I will give you the [tarmac] road.”
But Wilson Sasi who lives within PIM vicinity, blamed the leadership of PIM for doing little to develop the area. He said if the leadership was serious enough, PIM could have been upgraded to a status of attracting tourists who could bring money to the mission for further development initiatives.
He said the leadership of PIM should do more rather than waiting for government to develop the area.
“They [PIM leadership] should start first and government should trail them,” said Sasi.
General secretary for PIM, Aubrey Kambewa, said as a church, PIM has done a lot to develop it with the little resources it gets from well wishers, citing construction of a hospital and secondary school as examples.
“Now we have molded bricks which we want to use to build a multipurpose Hall which will be hired out to generate revenue,” he said.
He admitted that the area has lagged behind in development because government has never fully supported PIM in this perspective. He noted that PIM only becomes prominent on January 15 every year.
“May be we are regarded as a minority church. But we are not. Other churches have developed fast because of government’s support in one way or the other,” lamented Kambewa, hoping that the President’s promise to construct a tarmac road will materialise to expedite development in the area.
According to Kambewa, PIM has 120 branches in Malawi, 85 branches in Mozambique, 15 in Zambia, eight in Zimbabwe and five in South Africa.
Amon Samu, councillor of Mombezi Ward also argued that government has done little to honour Chilembwe’s home village, saying by now government could have constructed a technical college or even a university at PIM.
“Can you imagine that after 50 years of independence, the road that connects to PIM from Limbe or Chiradzulu Boma is an earth road?” asked Samu, whose ward is the home of PIM.
But if Chilembwe were alive today, perhaps he would smile at what government is doing. The establishment of community colleges by government has pleased the current leadership of PIM, the Reverend Patrick Makondetsa who feels Chilembwe’s vision of empowering the youth with various skills relevant to modern times is been fulfilled.
“The community colleges are in line with the vision of Chilembwe. Chilembwe wanted his people to be economically empowered as this could help them attain economic freedom,” said Makondetsa.
Mutharika has also named the Limbe-Zomba road after Chilembwe to honour the fallen hero.
Despite lack of tarmac road and poor infrastructure, PIM remains one of the historical pride of Malawi.
**Enock Chingoni works for Malawi News Agency