Willie Chokani, one of the first Cabinet ministers hired by founding president Hastings Kamuzu Banda at independence in 1964, has died aged 85.
Chokani died on Tuesday night at Mwaiwathu Private Hospital in Blantyre after a long battle with a heart problem and stroke, according to his nephew Kanjedza Kamwendo.
Said Kamwendo: “He [Chokani] has been at Mwaiwathu since 30th of last month [April] suffering from heart problem, stroke and congestion in the chest. As a family, we are saddened by his death.”
He said funeral details would be announced later.
Historian Desmond Duwa Phiri, popularly known as DD Phiri, described the death of Chokani, his schoolmate at Blantyre Secondary School, as a great loss to the nation.
Said Phiri: “He [Chokani] was one of the first ministers in Kamuzu Banda’s government and was a member of Parliament for the entire Chiradzulu. Chokani had a conscious mind. He resigned after the Cabinet crisis in support of his colleagues and he, together with Augustine Bwanausi, fled to Zambia.”
Chokani was a teacher, politician and diplomat. He spent some time in prison and was exiled for almost 30 years during the one-party State that ended with the 1993 national referendum that voted for plural politics.
He received a secondary education which enabled him to attend university in Delhi (India) and obtained teaching qualifications. Chokani returned to Malawi, then Nyasaland, in 1957 to become the first African head teacher in the British protectorate, and was politically active in the then Nyasaland African Congress which was campaigning for the end of colonial rule.
In 1959, a State of emergency was declared and Chokani was arrested. On his release, he joined the Malawi Congress Party and in 1961 was elected to the Legislative Council, becoming Minister of Labour in 1962.
After the Cabinet crisis, he left for Zambia where he resumed teaching and was active in Malawian exile politics. He returned to Malawi in 1993 and the following year he became Malawi’s ambassador to the United States of America, later holding other diplomatic posts until his retirement.