His portrait graces the ceremonial dress of the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) he headed until he died on November 25 1997.
His name drapes public structures constructed during his 31-year rule after liberating Malawi from Britain’s colonial grip.
Hastings Kamuzu Banda’s face still looms large in the country’s politics 27 years after Malawians rejected his authoritarian rule in the national referendum of June 14 1993.
When young nationalists invited him to lead the liberation struggle, he hardened not his heart. His homecoming in 1958 made him the poster face of the nationalist resistance.
The destroyer of “the stupid Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland” conceded defeats that ended his life presidency.
“This is what politics is about,” he said shortly after 63 percent of voters elected democracy in the referendum prompted by protests and aid cuts.
In 1994, he swiftly congratulated former MCP ally Bakili Muluzi who won 47 percent of the votes in the first multiparty presidential election. In a shaky voice, the aged and eccentric Kamuzu offered the “clear winner” full support and cooperation.
Government publicist Mark Botomani finds it proper to set aside a day to remember “the hero of our independence” .
Says the Minister of Information: “In fact, in 1994, he accepted defeat while the tabulation of votes was at 60 percent. That was a rare democratic character that Kamuzu taught us all. So, there is something fundamental to learn from him: Acceptance of results builds people’s confidence in governance.
“Kamuzu wanted Malawians to have faith in multiparty politics. In a big way, he helped build democracy. So, it is proper to remember such a man. And it was proper for the government to construct a mausoleum for Kamuzu.”
An enigma, Kamuzu concealed his birthday and marriage history, but reports show he was born in 1898 or 1906.
His rule was not without controversy. The referendum bared public resistance to tyrannical clampdowns on dissenting views., including the disappearance, expulsion and detention of his political foes that started just three months after independence on July 6 1964.
By September 1964, Kamuzu sacked three ministers and three others resigned in solidarity following a Cabinet uprising against delays to africanise the civil service and diplomatic ties with apartheid South Africa and China. The rebels included his ‘boys’—the ‘Young Turks’ who invited him from Kumasi, Ghana.
Muluzi, who he detained on charges of sedition, later placed his predecessor under house arrest for allegedly murdering three Cabinet ministers and one legislator in 1983, but the court acquitted the accused.
Muluzi also struck off Kamuzu’s name from public structures and today’s public holiday. The decision was later reversed by Bingu wa Mutharika, who idolised Kamuzu.
Bingu died in April 2012 amid rising protests against his draconian policies .
On May 14 2006, Bingu opened Kamuzu mausoleum, declaring himself ‘Nkhoswe Number Two’—the second defender of women after Kamuzu.
On May 14 2009, Bingu unveiled Kamuzu’s statue at the National Memorial Park in Lilongwe, saying the monument symbolises respect for Kamuzu.
Critics perceive the lone statue in the capital city as the fulfilment of Frank Chipasula’s 1981 poem—A Monument to the Tyrant.
During the funeral of exiled minister Rose Chibambo in 2006, MCP leader Lazarus Chakwera apologised for atrocities of the one-party system.
Political scientist Happy Kayuni says there are two sides to the man enthroned life president in 1971.
“We need to honour Kamuzu as the founding father of the nation, for his role in the independence struggle. But the same person was a controversial ruler, a dictator whose leadership inflicted pain on some people,” he says.
The head of political and administrative studies at the University of Malawi’s Chancellor College says Kamuzu Day—which Muluzi replaced with Freedom Day on June 14 in honour of the historic referendum—is “more political” not relevant to democracy.
He says: “If any party takes it away, it will lose voters who feel good about Kamuzu, whose party is still a force to reckon with.
“Bingu knew that if he wanted votes in the Central Region, the MCP stronghold, he had to demonstrate respect for Kamuzu and the work he did to develop the country.
“Besides, Bingu promoted Kamuzu to castigate Muluzi and he got a landslide victory in 2009.” Incumbents in Malawi keep slighting their predecessors.