Hon. Folks, on 8th March, 1992 Catholic Bishops published a Pastoral Letter titled ‘Living Our Faith’ which, many would probably agree, turned to be the whip that broke the back-bone of Kamuzu Banda’s one party dictatorship.
I am not a Catholic but from deep down my heart, I see what the bishops did in publishing the Pastoral Letter in the light of the story of Moses and his brother Aaron in the Old Testament.
In both cases, God used people, only armed with faith and a staff, to tell stubborn rulers who commanded mighty armies to set free God’s people from the bondage of oppression and exploitation.
The Pastoral Letter is amazing not just for articulating openly what the poets of the time would bury in cryptic stanzas but more importantly for invoking divine authority to proclaim the dignity, rights and freedoms which every human ought to have by virtue of being created in God’s image.
They, particularly Malawians in the group, could have been thrown into detention “to rot” or worse for what they had done but they still did it, not for themselves, but for all of us in Malawi.
When the Central Executive Committee of the MCP bayed for their blood, and the Police—who in the previous decade had bludgeoned to death ministers Dick Matenje, Aaron Gadama, Twaibu Sangala and MP David Chiwanga—called them for questioning, they simply complied knowing they could neither fight nor hide.
Thank you, Archbishop J. Chiona, Bishop F. Mkhori, Bishop M. Chimole, Bishop A. Assolari, Bishop A. Chamgwera, Bishop G. Chisendera and Monsignor J. Roche.
I hear only two of the signatories—Bishop Chamgwera and Monsignor (now Bishop) Roche are alive—but most, if not all, of them witnessed the exciting times when Kamuzu’s dictatorial rule crumbled. In its place, there was multiparty democracy ushered in together with a new Constitution which also safeguards human rights and freedoms.
The question is: if the signatories of the 1992 Pastoral Letter were to write again today, what would they say? Bishop Chamgwera laments that corruption and nepotism are worse now than in 1992.
The Pastoral Letter noted the prevalence of nepotism and bribery in political, economic and social life during the reign of Kamuzu Banda. In condemning it, the Bishops rightly noted that bribery and nepotism cause “violence and harm to the spirit of our people.”
Today, leaders openly condemn corruption and the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) was instituted during the first term of Bakili Muluzi (1994-1999) to fight corruption, yet the talk is not on mere bribery but corruption of Cashgate proportions.
There are pointers to the possibility that presidents themselves have not only encouraged but benefited from Cashgate which allows for the massive looting of government coffers in billions of kwacha through bank accounts of suppliers of fake goods and services.
No amount of talking—not even the drastic measure donors took to stop giving us direct budget support, thereby depriving government of up to 40 percent of the revenue in its recurrent budget—has changed an iota in government’s lacklustre fight against corruption.
Hospitals lack essential drugs, public schools face a shortage of teachers and teaching and learning materials, generally government charges more for poor service delivery, yet the President argues that we should be proud of managing just fine on our own resources.
Public servants know government doesn’t reward merit but loyalty and nepotism. In turn, they’ve resorted to collective bargaining, demanding whatever pay hike they want while threatening massive strike if not given.
The most unfortunate is the subsistent farmer. Every year, they use the hoe to grow crops which are sold for a song to town folks. When hunger strikes they are the first ones to starve. Their poverty gets worse with time while the rich are amassing more wealth even by looting.
The politician thinks about them during election times. Multiparty is no better at exploiting poor Malawians than the one-party dictatorship.