Vera Chirwa, freedom fighter of Malawi, Africa

This video is called A Visit to Malawi Lake (Africa); it is especially about the cichlid fish there.

From British daily The Morning Star:

Freedom fighter against all odds

(Sunday 25 November 2007)

Vera Chirwa: Fearless Fighter by Vera Chirwa
(Zed Books, £12.99)

APARTHEID not only existed in South Africa but also in Zambia and Zimbabwe, then called North and south Rhodesia, and Nyasaland, which is now known as Malawi.

Highly educated blacks were treated as “boys,” to be humiliated by less educated white workers. Added to this, black women in traditional societies were regarded as unequal to men and not expected to be educated.

Vera Mlangazua Chirwa, who was born in 1932 in Nyasaland, therefore had a double struggle to obtain an education. She overcame her family prejudices and went to school in Livingstonia and Blantyre. Shortly after leaving school, she met Orton Chirwa, a teacher 13 years her senior. They fell in love and were married in 1951.

Orton went to study law in London, leaving Vera with three children to rear. She got a job as a clerk, paid less than white colleagues and forced to live five miles from her work. She experienced blatant racism and injustice, which fuelled her political activism.

Returning qualified in 1959, her husband opened the first non-European law practice in Nyasaland.

Both were members of the Nyasaland African Congress, which opposed the white colonial Federation of North and South Rhodesia and Nyasaland.

Dr Hastings Banda, a friend of the Chirwa’s, returned from Europe in 1958 to lead the fight for black freedom and was elected president of the NAC.

Fearing a massacre of whites by blacks, the white district commissioners began to imprison NAC members. Orton, who had defended many, was arrested with Vera on a trumped-up charge and they were imprisoned in Rhodesia.

Every humiliation was inflicted on the black female prisoners. Vera withstood them all, claiming political detainee rights with some success. Both were released after six months.

Orton formed the Malawian Congress Party, of which Banda became president. In the first democratic elections in 1961, the MCP won a landslide victory.

The Machiavellian leader Banda then instituted a reign of terror against his fellow freedom fighters.

He also made an alliance with the South African apartheid regime. For this and his suppression of opposition, the Western political Right called Banda a ‘moderate African leader’. A favourite of them, like other dicatators such as Mobutu in Congo, Suharto in Indonesia; and today, Musharraf in Pakistan.

Many fled to Tanzania, including Orton and children, while Vera left for London to study for the Bar. In 1966, she returned to her family and became the Tanzanian prosecuting state attorney.

On the way to Zambia in 1981, Vera, with Orton and their two sons, was kidnapped and taken to Malawi. After a farcical trial before a traditional court, Vera and Orton Chirwa were imprisoned, under sentence of death.

In 1992, a joint British human rights delegation briefly brought them together. Both had been brutally treated, chained and starved. Each thought the other dead.

Four weeks later, Orton was mysteriously found dead in his cell. After a family reunion for his funeral, Vera was released in January 1993.

In June of that year, a successful referendum for multi-party democracy took place in Malawi. Prior to the referendum, Chirwa insisted that a constitution be agreed. A widely based symposium thrashed one out, covering democracy and human rights, but it still is not fully implemented.

She now campaigns for the emancipation of Malawian women and empowerment of their rights and, as an African human rights commissioner, carries on her work throughout Africa.

The Danish Institute for Human Rights and Amnesty International, which sponsored this book, deserve praise for making Vera Chirwa’s courage known to the world.


Malawi: Big Tobacco and child labour: here.

Swaziland: Women challenge royal extravagance: here.

12 thoughts on “Vera Chirwa, freedom fighter of Malawi, Africa

  1. The struggle for democracy in Swaziland

    Two speeches by leaders of the Peoples United Democratic Movement
    (PUDEMO — Swaziland’s liberation movement) on the developing struggle
    for democracy and social justice in the small southern African country
    of Swaziland. Mario Masuku is president of PUDEMO; Bongani Masuku is a
    former secretary general of the Swaziland Solidarity Network and is the
    Congress of South African Trade Unions’ international secretary.

    * Read more


  2. Sep 4, 2:40 PM EDT

    AIDS-stricken Swaziland feels less than overjoyed as king and country celebrate 40th birthday

    Associated Press Writer

    MBABANE, Swaziland (AP) — Swaziland and its king are throwing a joint 40th birthday bash this weekend, but the mood is far from celebratory in this small southern African land of paupers and princes, mud huts and palaces.

    The government calls them the 40-40 festivities, marking King Mswati III’s birthday and the anniversary of Swaziland’s independence from Britain. But the number 40 cuts both ways – unemployment, 40 percent: HIV rates: nearly 40 percent among adults.

    “What is it we are celebrating?” demanded Philile Mlotshwa. “Is it the world’s highest AIDS rate? The collapse of the health and education system? What are we showing the world that we have achieved?”

    Her advocacy group rallied hundreds of HIV-positive women last month to demonstrate against the cost of the celebrations, officially put at $2.5 million though widely believed to be five times higher.

    Although Africa’s last absolute monarch is widely revered among his 1 million subjects, there is particular public anger that about eight of his 13 wives flew to Dubai for a birthday party shopping spree.

    “We are dying while they are flying,” was the refrain at the demonstration.

    The national stadium has been refurbished for the birthday festivities, which will feature military bands, traditional singing, dancing and drumming, a royal garden party and state banquet for VIPs, who are expected to include President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe among African heads of state.

    The public seems to be particularly irked by the fleet of luxury cars bought by the government to chauffeur the birthday guests.

    About 5,000 trade union members took to the streets Wednesday to protest against the expenditure by a country where 70 percent live below the poverty line, and one in five depend on international food aid.

    Life expectancy has nearly halved since 1998 because of the AIDS epidemic and is now less than 31 years, according to the most recent U.N. figures.

    A smaller demonstration was held Thursday.

    The government in Mbabane, the capital, sees the criticism as “a political ploy to tarnish the image of the country during the upcoming 40-40 celebrations,” the prime minister’s office said in a full page newspaper ad Thursday.

    Mswati’s kingdom, two-thirds the size of Vermont, lies on South Africa’s eastern border. He came to the throne in 1986 after the death of his father, King Sobhuza II. Sobhuza declared a state of emergency in 1973 which Mswati has never formally lifted.

    A new constitution took effect in 2006 which enshrined more civil liberties like freedom of assembly but still maintained the ban on political opposition parties. The king appoints the prime minister and the cabinet.

    Queen Mother Ntombi Thwala – which means “She Elephant” – wields huge influence behind the scenes and is consulted by the king on such matters as choosing a prime minister.

    “The king does a lot of good things, and the people love and respect him,” said Henry Dlamini, a 23 year-old student standing on the sidelines of Wednesday’s protest. But he added that the royal family, with each wife entitled to her own palace, was too big, and that the king was surrounded by self-serving ministers and advisers.

    “Fine, have a big celebration, but this is too much,” he said. “They could have channeled the money toward a lot of things because Swaziland has a lot of problems.”

    Still, the signs of change are evident, starting with royal marital practice. Sobhuza had 70 wives. Mswati has sufficed with 13, apparently to set an example in the fight against AIDS.

    The demonstrations so far have passed unhindered, and the government responds to its critics with newspaper ads, not truncheons. People are relaxed and friendly. City streets have shopping malls and are full of new cars.

    Swazis bristle when exile groups compare their country to Zimbabwe, where opposition supporters are beaten and killed.

    Most Swazis are fiercely protective of their traditions, highlighted last weekend by the annual Reed Dance of some 100,000 schoolgirls in traditional Zulu dress, dancing for the king, who could have – but didn’t – select one as a bride.

    Even Mswati’s sharpest critics say they don’t want to overthrow the monarchy.

    “He can be a king, but with fewer powers,” said 32-year-old Moses Gama, a member of a militant opposition group.


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  11. 100 years ago: British authorities brutally suppress African uprising
    John Chilembwe (left) in 1914

    This week in January 1915, British colonial authorities launched a brutal crackdown following an uprising in Nyasaland, modern-day Malawi, that had begun on January 23. Villages were looted and destroyed by colonial militias, while around 40 alleged rebels were shot dead, and another 300 imprisoned.

    The rebellion was led by John Chilembwe, a millenarian Christian pastor who had been educated in the US, and had grown increasingly hostile to the marginalization of the educated black middle class, and the servility of tribal chiefs to the colonial authorities. Chilembwe appealed to widespread hostility to attempts to dragoon the native population into fighting for the British Empire in World War I, and opposition to the horrific conditions confronted by plantation workers. Many were engaged in “thangata labour”—i.e., work without pay—and were effectively treated as slaves.

    Chilembwe issued a public letter in November 1914, calling on British authorities “not to recruit more of my countrymen, my brothers who do not know the cause of your fight, who indeed, have nothing to do with it.” Chilembwe instead called on the British to recruit the plantation owners, traders, missionaries and other “white settlers” to fight in the global conflict.

    Planning for the uprising is thought to have begun in late 1914. On the night of January 23, Chilembwe delivered a speech at his church in Mbombwe, calling for an uprising aimed at highlighting the plight of the African population, and pressuring colonial authorities to redress it. He anticipated that all of the rebels would be killed in reprisal attacks.

    The rebellion began following Chilembwe’s speech. Coordinated attacks on colonial outposts and plantations were carried out in southern and central Nyasaland, killing three colonists, and wounding five others. An estate manager notorious for his abuse of impoverished workers was decapitated.

    The largely disorganized character of the rebellion enabled colonial authorities to launch a counter-offensive, beginning on January 26, which included the capture of Chilembwe’s stronghold in Mbombwe. Rebel fighters either fled, or were killed or captured, as vicious “reprisal” attacks were launched. Chilembwe was shot dead on February 3, while seeking to flee Nyasaland.

    A commission of inquiry carried out by British authorities, while pointing to the brutal conditions facing the native population, rejected any fundamental changes. The commission called for sections of the black middle class to be integrated into local government structures, in order to prevent further upheavals.


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