Kamuzu’s legacy is complex, complicated, and sometimes outright contradictory. To some, Kamuzu Banda was a dictator who did not tolerate dissent and they are right; for we know people who got arrested and jailed without trial and parole. Some died in prison. Some survived prison only to find their property, children, and spouses repossessed.
To others, Kamuzu was a notorious abuser of human rights who, through the Malawi Young Pioneers, the Women’s League and the Youth League, curtailed almost all human freedoms, especially freedoms of assembly, conscience, and expression. And these, too, are right because those who lived during his reign were never free to exercise political choice or assemble for anything other than religion and the Malawi Congress Party.
And Kamuzu himself knew his failings. In his apology and farewell speech, he took responsibility for all his government’s failures. Some people still feel he did not go far enough as to accept responsibility for what he, personally, did in his 30 years as president. Others feel his apology was enough.
Notwithstanding his failings, Kamuzu was a man of multiple visions and worked hard to achieve those visions. As a young man he had a vision for himself and he worked hard and travelled to South Africa, USA and Britain to get his desired medical qualifications.
In a letter to Ernest Matako of Kasungu, perhaps one of his relations written in the 1930s or earlier, Kamuzu dreamed about building a school where the brightest children of Nyasaland, selected for their intelligence only, would learn and get the best education. The dream or vision was realized in the names of the University of Malawi (The Polytechnic, Chancellor College, Bunda College, Kamuzu College of Nursing and College of Medicine) which originally only recruited students for their intelligence.
Then in came Kamuzu Academy, his private high school, dubbed the Eton of Africa opened in 1981. To access Kamuzu Academy then you had to be exceptionally bright but to ensure equity, every district was allocated two places in Form 1. No fees.
Kamuzu wanted the best for his common people. The Malawi of the Kamuzu era had buses that got to every corner of Malawi as long as Malawians lived there. This meant that all roads had to be passable. Dusty but passable. That stopped when the multiparty boys, anyamata a patauni, came in.
The Malawi of the Kamuzu era had a Cityline bus service that served the cities of Blantyre, Lilongwe, and Mzuzu on time, in time, every time, every day, and every year until the multiparty boys, anyamata a patauni, stopped it.
The Malawi of the Kamuzu era had an airstrip for every district to facilitate tourist and local people’s air travel. It was possible then to fly from Blantyre to Karonga on Air Malawi. It was easy then to fly to Mangochi, Makokola and Monkey Bay because all these areas had airstrips built purposefully to support the lake Malawi tourism industry. These were all functional until the multiparty boys, anyamata a patauni, took over.
The Malawi of the Kamuzu era understood that the majority of Malawians were, are and will be poor for many years to come. Students, police officers, and civil servants travelling on official transfers were issued with concession tickets that enabled them to pay half of the local transport fare. This privilege, a social security, went away when the multiparty boys, anyamata a patauni, came on the scene.
Those who attended public university from 1965 to 1984 will testify that being a university student in Malawi during those golden years was the best moment in one’s life. We received an allowance of K12.00 for women and K11.70 for men (after tax deduction). We had four square meals every day. Mwana wa sukulu alirenji.
We had warm and hot showers every day. We had comfortable hostel beds with well-lit reading lamps. We had books and other reference materials. We had entertainment. To Kamuzu education of the youth was a national investment for a better national future. But all this went away when the multiparty boys, anyamata a patauni, took over.
Typical of an ungrateful generation, it is our generation, the generation that read for their degrees for free that is busy crafting and implementing policies that are rendering university education elitist.
Instead of asking for scholarships and creating industries and business, such as shops, garages, workshops, to support student education, the generation that went through university education for free is busy hiking student fees. Yet everyone knows that research by National Statistical Office shows that poverty is getting worse in Malawi.
That is why some of us sincerely thank the Ngwazi Kamuzu Banda for our university education. If the education planners were allowed their diabolical insensitive plotting to eliminate the poor from accessing education during Kamuzu’s era, the majority of us would not have known university education and most likely would have perished as we wallowed in our inherited poverty.
Thank you Ngwazi Kamuzu Banda for being there when we, children of the poorest of the poor, needed university education.