On May 23 2012, I saw once more that a group of people had gathered outside the Blantyre Post Office peering at framed copies of new banknotes. They were talking heatedly: â€œWe know who Kamuzu is and we know who John Chilembwe is. But who are these other people? I gave them a brief lecture on the persons they did not know. â€œThank you,â€ they said: â€œNow we know.â€
I left feeling joyful that I had performed a piece of work as a historian, at the same time I started wondering what sort of history the Ministry of Education is teaching in our schools.
During my schooldays, if someone mentioned names of famous people like Dr James Kwegyir Aggrey, Moshoeshoe, Seretse Khama the Great, Apollo Kagwa, you would expect most students to know them. Their biographies were part of the history curriculum those days.
There is no excuse now for young Malawians who have completed primary or secondary education to be unaware of the heroes of our country. The publication of History of Malawi Vol 2 has madeÂ it possible toÂ teach the history of Malawi from earliest times to the year 2009, and there you will find references to all those heroes depicted on the banknotes and many more. We cannot love our country sufficiently if we do not know its history. People who take part in public life and ascend to top positions while grossly ignorant of the history both of this country and other countries might end badly.
Having noted how ignorant those people at the Blantyre Post Office were of most of those heroes now decorating ourÂ currencies, I assumed that other people out there might benefit from the facts I have about Dr Banda, John Chilembwe, James Sangala, Rose Chibambo, Inkosi Gomani II and Inkosi Mâ€™mbelwa II.
The descriptions concerning these heroes which appeared in the media did not sufficiently highlight what they had done that had earned them extra recognition. Besides, some details were inaccurate. The inaccuracies in such cases started with relatives or those who claimed to be relatives of someone who had become a historical figure. Without comparing what they know, these relatives spoke like oracles.
What reasons are there for someone to believe that what I am going to say below about the heroes on the currency notes is more authentic than that which has already appeared in the media? From about 1963 to 1973, I devoted myself to research on the lives of â€˜outstanding Malawians.â€™ Longmans published five of these lives under the common title of Malawians to Remember. They were John Chilembwe, Inkosi Gomani II, James F. Sangala, Dunduzu Chisiza and Charles Chidongo Chinula. That of Clements Kadalie appeared later under a different publisher.
In my History of Malawi Volume 2, you will come across the research I had made on Dr H.K. Banda, Rose Lomathinda Chibambo and Inkosi Mâ€™mbelwa II.
In 1946, Dr Banda, while practicing medicine in London, jointly with Rev Cullen Young translated three essays from chiNyanja into English and published them under the title Our African Way of Life. This book has recently been published with my preface by Central Africana Ltd, Blantyre.
Cullen Young was a Livingstonia Mission missionary who, at Chilanga mission station, Kasungu, invigilated an examination at which Hastings Banda was one of the candidates. In the year 1915, an examination was due for the teachers in one of the districts under the Livingstonia Mission in Northern Nyasaland of the then United Free Church o Scotland and there presented himself a very youthful pupil-teacher small also in stature. He was not more than 13 years old, but from the age of 10, he had passed all tests open to him.
Banda, at the back of the class, stood up to see clearly what was on the blackboard. He was misunderstood by the European invigilator who thought he was trying to copy from the candidate in front and debarred him from continuing to sit for the exams.
Young goes on: â€œThree weeks later, a youthful figure crossed the Zambezi heading as he hoped, for Lovedale in South Africa. His parents were not told and for months, gave him for dead.â€
We are told Banda worked in the Hartley Hospital, Salisbury as an orderly (not a clerk) as TV speakers told the nation.
The Devlin Commission Report, which is extensively cited in History of Malawi Vol II, says that even if Dr Banda had not come back to Malawi, the disturbances of 1959 would have taken place. This was because peopleâ€™s clamour for freedom and hatred of the federation had, by that time, reached fever pitch. If so, what unusual thing did Banda do that earned him the title Father and Founder of the Malawi Nation. Within a short time after his arrival in July 1958, he turnedÂ Nyasaland African Congress into a mass movement and a battering ram with which he crushed the federation, thereby hastening Nyasalandâ€™s march to independence. In Zambia, they gave him the degree DOF, meaning Destroyer of the Federation.
As prime minister and president of Malawi from 1963 to 1994, he laid solid physical and social infrastructures which virtually transformed Malawi out of recognition as he himself used to say.