For us, members of the Bottom Up expedition led by the indomitable and indefatigable Prof. Dr Joyce Befu, MEGA-1, 2021 ended on a high and successful note.
On Wednesday 29 December 2021 we witnessed the launch of Notes and Life Sketches: The autobiography of Dr Andrew George Nga Mtafu.
As many reviewers have already noted, the book is a personal reflection on events that the author witnessed as he grew up on the Chizumulu Island, went to school in Nkhota Kota, Zomba, Blantyre, and Dedza before leaving to study human medicine in Germany. He married, Evely Kalonga, and had his only two children while there.
Upon his return to Malawi, he joined the Ministry of Health as a neurosurgeon based at Queen Elisabeth Hospital in Blantyre and became one of the funding teaching staff of the College of Medicine, now part of the Kamuzu University of Health Sciences (KUHeS). Later, he rose to a senior managerial position in the ministry. And that is where his troubles started. Someone created a story that Dr Mtafu had said something bad about the Ngwazi (kunyoza Ngwazi).
Kunyoza Ngwazi was a “serious crime”. It was interpreted as undermining, insulting, ridiculing, debasing, or disrespecting the Ngwazi in word, gestures, and even in silence. Our legal team informs us that the culprit law (Section 4 of the Protected Emblems, Flags, and Names Act of 1967) is very much alive.
During the multiparty era, the law has been used to punish people even for joking about their president. A teacher once joked to his class that Bakili Muluzi’s face filled the entire 20 Tambala coin. He was picked. Kamulepo Kaluwa once called Bingu wa Mutharika kaNgwazi. Gwandanguluwe Chakuwamba Phiri once called Bingu a drunk. He was arrested. Most recently private citizen Chisomo Makala of Chigwirizano, Lilongwe, was arrested for sharing a video purportedly insulting President Chakwera.
Kunyoza Ngwazi landed people in detention without trial and some were detained until till they died. There, they were undressed to the skin, abused, whipped, and subjected to the most inhumane treatment by their own state. The whole country was imprisoned and undressed. Even those in powerful positions were psychologically chained.
If you are interested in understanding Kunyoza Ngwazi and its toll on the Malawian psyche, read Fearless Fighter by Vera Chirwa, Political Prisoner 3/75 by Sam Mpasu, Living Dangerously by Padraig O’Malley, and other literature of incarceration by Jack Mapanje and Felix Mnthali. Fidelis Edge Kanyongolo is, hopefully, finalising his prison memoir. Why the insult laws are still part of Malawi’s penal code is incomprehensible.
Beyond family, prison and party politics Mtafu’s autobiography raises other major issues for national debate and reform.
When he got elected to parliament, Dr Mtafu refused to swear by the Bible. He was dubbed an atheist. In Malawi, not belonging to a religion or not believing in God is considered heretic.
Very few people consider Malawi a secular state. Official meetings start and end with prayer. Civil marriage in Malawi is deemed inadequate until it is celebrated religiously. Oaths of office are sworn by religion. Is it really necessary to swear to God in a secular state? For political commitment to good governance, swearing by the Constitution of the Republic of Malawi would be enough.
Since this initial maverick act by Dr Mtafu, other officers have also declined to swear by religion preferring to subject their time in office to the law. Let’s just stop swearing oaths by religion. After, our civil service and political actions are extremely ungodly.