And crocodiles are hungry at night
Publisher: Ayebia Clarke Publishing
I have marvelled at the rock paintings / of Mphunzi Hills once but these grooves / and notches on the walls of Mikuyu prison, / how furious, what barbarous squiggles! / How long did this anger languish without / trial, without charge, without visit here and / what justice committed? (99)
So reads an extract from a poem featured in this memoir. The lines quoted above reflect the feelings of Jack Mapanje as he helps to clean the walls of his cell in a Malawian prison called Mikuyu, and were written two months after his completely unanticipated and unjustified imprisonment without trial – in fact, on the personal instructions of the head of state at the time, President Hastings Kamuzu Banda. It will probably never be established how many people were killed, jailed, tortured or forced into exile for being Banda’s presumed political opponents during his thirty-year reign – indeed, the Banda tyranny was, in many ways, kept hidden from the world’s eyes, and can in certain respects be described as one of Africa’s “forgotten horrors”. Opposing this erasure, Mapanje’s prison memoir, with its eerie title (a Banda quote), refuses to forget or look away. This important narrative, like other well-known, earlier examples of African prison memoirs, many of them by famous writers, is a record of courage, friendship and enterprise in loyal league against the incarcerating, isolating and obliterating forces of tyranny.
Jack Mapanje is an internationally recognised scholar (primarily a linguist), poet and cultural activist against oppression. He suffered imprisonment for more than three and a half years under the decree of “President-for-Life” Banda. Since there was never a trial, the actual reasons why he was picked up and incarcerated could never be known for sure. Chapter after chapter returns to the topic of the possible motives (for there could be no valid reasons) for his having been taken and kept in custody. But, as the poetic response to the sight of graffiti left on the cell walls by previous political prisoners of the Banda regime testifies, Mapanje was but one of the many, many (probably several thousand) victims of this dark, immediately post-colonial period in their country’s history. It was, in fact, a deliberate measure, Mapanje believes, not to hold trials or have charge sheets, so that there were hardly any records of political imprisonments, while the state, or those who wielded power – the notorious cabal, consisting of Banda’s female companion or hostess (known as the “Mama”) and her sister, brother-in-law and uncle who exercised a great deal of influence over university affairs – had a virtually free hand in punishing anyone they felt was opposed to, or merely unenthusiastic about, the state of affairs.
The bizarre nature of the only event resembling a tribunal, which Mapanje describes in some detail (after his Friday afternoon arrest in – of all places – a deserted golfers’ bar next to the pub where he was enjoying a drink with a colleague) irresistibly recalls Kafka’s The trial. It is headed by the inspector general of police and attended by “eight or so fearful-looking”, “double-chinned” commissioners of police of the various administrative regions of Malawi. It begins much like some innocuous, decorous departmental meeting, with the inspector general calling the gathering to order, and continues as follows (in Mapanje’s recollection):
Dr Mapanje, welcome. And gentlemen, thank you for making time to come at short notice. Dr Mapanje, I am inspector general Elliot Mbedza and the chairman of this country’s security council. At 11 am this morning I was summoned by his excellency the life president Ngwazi [meaning “the Lion”] Dr H Kamuzu Banda to update him on the country’s security – I perform such duties every Friday. But after our deliberations today, his excellency (the HE) has directed me to arrest you and imprison you, Dr Mapanje. He did not tell me why; I did not ask him why; and since it is a directive from above, I must tell you we are not going to investigate your case. It would be questioning the wisdom of the HE, the highest authority in the land [at this time, Banda was 89 years old]. I invited these commissioners from their posts all over the country, therefore, to find out if there is anything in our files about you. There is nothing. I repeat, Dr Mapanje, these commissioners say you are not in our books. So, before we take you to prison according to the wishes of his excellency, we thought we should ask you just three questions. Who are you? Why do you think we should arrest and imprison you? What have you done to each other in the university to warrant imprisonment? (23–4)
“Stunned” by these bizarre questions from the top police hierarchy who are about to enact and ratify his incarceration, Mapanje remains speechless. He knows, too, that “according to my country’s ‘orality politics’, whatever answer or defence I might provide will be used against me” (24). He suspects immediately that it is not so much Banda personally, as the clique who manipulates the ageing president – which includes the Chancellor College principal, Kadzamira, unqualified “boss” to Mapanje and brother to the Mama and to Banda’s secretary – who have orchestrated his arrest. It is only more than ten years later, six years beyond his release (when he is attending meetings in Malawi from his new home in York, England), that Mapanje will be given reliable testimony about the direct involvement [in influencing Banda to demand the poet and scholar’s arrest and imprisonment] of John Tembo, then the council chairman of the University of Malawi, treasurer general of the [only] ruling party, and uncle of Banda’s female companion, the Mama – ie also a member of “the self-styled royal family” (419), along with the Mama and her sister, Banda’s personal secretary, who had imperiously and discourteously summoned Mapanje’s informant to come to a meeting with the president. The army chief and the police inspector general had also been summoned. Even then, in late 1997, though, the information divulged does not indicate why the 1987 decision was taken.
After the banal establishment of Mapanje’s qualifications and recent academic travel, the meeting disbands. However, the prisoner is tapped on the shoulder by one of the commissioners, who introduces himself as McWilliam Lunguzi, head of security and intelligence services in Malawi – a man thought to have ambitions of becoming Banda’s successor. Upon being asked “privately” by him “what happened at the university”, Mapanje feels “sickened by his hypocrisy but frightened by his power” (27). Their meeting ends with Lunguzi stating: “I’ll do everything in my power to get you out of this. Meanwhile, you had better say three Hail Marys every day so that the HE does not forget about you in prison” (28). When, after more than three and a half years in prison, Mapanje is taken to an unknown destination, he discovers that the person who summoned him is this same Lunguzi, who has, by now, been promoted to head the entire police force. He is assured that Lunguzi kept asking Banda to consider releasing Mapanje, but that the president was always adamant that he would not permit this, not even when (about four months earlier) Banda had allowed two of Mapanje’s fellow inmates to be freed. Lunguzi even shows him the presidential signature and the word “never” next to his name. But, then, Mapanje is shown the most recent document of this kind, containing only his own name, and with Banda’s signed word “approved” next to it (361–3). Lunguzi assures Mapanje that the president has no objection to his returning to his position as the English Department HOD; indeed, that there are no strings attached to his immediate release, even though only the two of them and Banda are, at this point, aware of the official liberation. Then, and to the reader, very weirdly, Lunguzi (having told Mapanje that his release is a “miracle”) repeats the odd and seemingly metaphysical question that had been asked at the police tribunal: “‘If you don’t mind, Dr Mapanje, who are you?’” (363). After this, Lunguzi explains more mundanely that, even though in Malawi many more “distinguished” people than the poet and scholar Mapanje have been imprisoned (under Banda), “‘we’ve never had the same amount of trouble as we’ve had over your case. People who supported you came from unexpected corners of the globe’” (364). This, of course, touches on a main theme of the memoir: that, even while Mapanje was trapped within the isolation of prison, his friends locally and worldwide – and their friends, plus all the influential international bodies they had links with – raised up a persistent clamour for his release that eventually even the obdurate Banda could no longer afford to ignore.
When Mapanje’s first poetry collection, Of chameleons and gods, was published in 1981 in the Heinemann African Writers Series, it drew fairly wide and favourable attention, and reviewers noticed that it contained more or less veiled criticism of socio-political conditions in Malawi. There was some trouble over its publication abroad when Mapanje returned to Malawi after completing his doctoral studies in linguistics in Britain; he had more or less refused (or, at least, delayed giving his assent to) having the first and “official” Malawian publishing house publish a censored version of his collection; he had been warned before returning that rumours were swirling about locally that the poems were daringly critical of the Banda regime and the president’s cabal; he had failed to offer the collection to the Malawian censors for scrutiny before allowing its publication in Britain, etcetera. He does not take this as the likely, or at least primary, reason for his detention, though, since it was, at that time, two years before that Of chameleons and gods had been “withdrawn from publication” (and not officially “banned”) in Malawi, with all bookshop copies confiscated by the police and dropped down pit latrines (only in mid-1985, and all but accidentally, had Mapanje learned that this had been done) (152–8). He does recall, though, how the very fine poet Frank Chipasula had to flee across the border because of his politically critical poetic stance. After Mapanje’s arrest, and in handcuffs that make his wrists bleed, he is first taken to his university office, where police, in their fruitless and brutal search among his books and documents, can find nothing incriminating, and subsequently driven to his home. His horrified family have to stand and bear witness as an equally destructive search there yields nothing except the parental passports and the novel Detainee by Legson Kayira – banned because its exiled author is an opponent of Banda’s regime (book ownership he could justify, Mapanje believed). His elderly mother bravely castigates the cops for what they are doing to the son she knows to be no criminal, of course meeting only discourteous rebukes for her temerity in speaking up. The police even disturb and damage precious academic research papers, provoking an initial theory that he is resented by those at the top for being chairperson of the newly founded Linguistics Association for the nine universities south of the Sahara (excluding South Africa), since all support or membership of regional or international bodies is considered riskily “disloyal” to Malawi’s leaders, and “draw[ing] local attention away from them” (14)! When he later arrives at the notorious Mikuyu maximum detention prison, Mapanje is unceremoniously shoved into a filthy cell overrun with noxious insects and foul fumes, barefoot and dressed perforce in a soiled prison outfit – fearing that this may merely be the preamble to his assassination.
His fears are by no means idle: four highly respected political leaders (for example) are known to have been briefly imprisoned, then apparently released and killed in what was made to appear a car accident. Their bodies were never allowed to be examined, but it came out that they had been killed beforehand by having tent pegs driven into their skulls. “Accidentalised” was the scathing term subsequently coined for what became one of the Banda regime’s favoured methods of permanently silencing opposition, along with the terrible Young Pioneer youth brigades’ methods of arbitrarily picking on “suspects” whom they would dump into lime pits, and the “feeding” of opponents, or their corpses, to crocodiles. Exacerbating his anxiety is the fact that he knows no one is aware of where he’s being kept, and that, upon waking up in prison for the first time, a group of warders refer to him by using the scathing local term kachigawenga, which means “despicable little rebel” (44). They tell him brutally that “this is the University of Mikuyu, not the University of Malawi”, taunting his immediate loss of status. Along with his only fellow inmate in this section, Mapanje is mockingly identified as a “yes-yes man”, meaning an educated Malawian who can speak English fluently. The man in the adjoining cell to his is Alex Mataka, a multilingual former Mozambican diplomat in their Malawian embassy (though of Malawian ethnicity); he was arrested after a mission to “communist China” (45). Alex is sure (like other fellow inmates and, to an extent, Mapanje himself) that “jealousies” caused the academic’s jailing; he kindly inducts Mapanje into a routine of washing and cell cleaning, even of forcing horribly rotten food down one’s gullet, in order to ensure the necessary and main form of prison resistance – that of staying sane and alive. The difficulty of remaining mentally balanced is illustrated by Mapanje’s fruitless speculation about several, in themselves trivial, occurrences possibly having triggered his arrest – such as prominence in the regional linguistics association; the announcement of the invitation to him to become Writer in Residence for a year at the University of Zimbabwe; his fraternisation with famous African authors, such as Ngugi and Achebe; and his exclusion of white South African linguists from the Scandinavian-funded linguistics conference – at this time, since Banda (as is well-known) was about the only African head of state who accepted alliance with the apartheid government. In a proverbial “sane world”, none of these acts and facts would be considered as even remotely deserving imprisonment, of course.
About three weeks later, Mapanje is unexpectedly transferred to a more populous section of the same prison, known as D4. Here, he is respectfully welcomed by his new fellow inmate, Disi, who is the head “trusty” (like a “headman” among the prisoners). Alidi Disi also speaks chiYao, the native tongue of Mapanje’s father. His deputy is known only by his initials, TS. The two of them, and a third prisoner, have languished in Mikuyu for over fifteen years, “appalling” news to Mapanje (62). But it is these men, along with the indefatigable Brown Mpinganjira, Stephen Pingeni, Ian Mbale and a number of others, who will become Mapanje’s trusted friends and allies over the period of his and their imprisonment, teaching him how to fend off the bleak boredom of incarcerated existence, lack of decent food or reading matter (except for three Bibles shared among about fifteen men, and later, even more) or health care, and absence of colour or vistas (even their courtyard is all “roofed” over with wire mesh) and, in his own case, even of visits from family or communication with friends. Mapanje is soon informed that Brown and TJ orchestrated his transfer; not only were they terribly worried for his health in that even less salubrious and lonelier section than their own, but they had the idea that his relative social prominence as a respected academic and internationally known scholar and poet would work to their mutual benefit – an astute surmise that was probably confirmed by the eventual results:
They have been sending surreptitious messages about our sub-human living conditions in prison and exposing Banda’s politics of elimination to human rights organisations abroad. They now want […] to take the struggle for our freedom beyond the bounds of Banda’s expectations [and] I can’t wait to be of some use to my country [adds Mapanje]. (65)
The men with whom Mapanje is imprisoned range over all classes and [former] occupations – from farmers and factory workers to successful businessmen and “respected journalist and broadcaster” Brown, whose “informed and organised” attitude (80) particularly inspires Mapanje. Especially shocking is the imprisonment (at a much later stage) of
primary school boy Bright Nyasulu, who has been sent to A-wing to stay with Macduff Mtawila Msumanga, Blaise Machila and Martin Machipisa Munthali [adult men considered especially “serious” political prisoners]. Nyasulu is about 14 years old; he was telling one of his schoolmates that his relative, who was teaching in the south, has been ordered to return home in the north. Nyasulu’s friend innocently relayed the story to his father at home; and being a member of Banda’s Special Branch, his father instantly went to arrest Bright, bringing him straight to Mikuyu prison, without trial and without charge. (307)
This case leaves the inmates “flabbergasted”. The D4 prisoners have as “neighbours” the criminals who have been condemned to death, and have named them the “terminals”. An especial ordeal even for the “politicals” is that every six months, in the very early hours, there is a swoop on the “terminals” that (in terms of some incomprehensible, lottery-like system) takes exactly six of those men to be hanged at Zomba Central (the notorious neighbouring prison). The horrifyingly arbitrary nature of the swoop means that some prisoners who were condemned have languished in the jail for decades, but of course fear with every such raid it may be their turn. The “politicals” unavoidably partake in the agonies of these events.
More and more prisoners are brought in to be kept in D4; several are hardly “political” in any sense; their offences seem to include matters like having prospered economically (and hence presenting competition to Banda, the “royal family” or other Banda henchmen) or, sometimes, merely having attained outstanding intellectual achievements – the consensus in D4 echoes earlier surmises that Malawi’s rulers are beset by pathological jealousies resulting from their insecurities as unqualified and unjust leaders. Ndlovi proclaims that “Banda’s dislike of clever Malawians started early” in his reign, while Brown remarks:
And that’s the tragedy of our African educational system, Big Man: our leaders send their young men and women to national universities or to universities abroad to get advanced qualifications, skills and experience necessary for the development of their countries. But when these young people return home, they are never trusted to put into practice the skills they’ve acquired; they are arrested and imprisoned instead; how can Africa progress like that? (94)
Banda, who is from the central region, especially distrusts Malawians from the north; scores of them languished in jail during an earlier period, as some more lengthily imprisoned inmates report.
The prisoners refuse to be passively helpless. Brown is the leading spirit in getting reports out to “the world” about the incarcerations and the dreadful conditions under which they are held (physical torture, often resulting in permanent paralysis, is at least in abeyance, but that “softening” happened because of international agitation about it). Mapanje is, on a pretext, summoned to help Brown carry supplies brought by the latter’s father, who informs him that news of his detention has been broadcast on the BBC World Service already. This is immediately heartening to Mapanje, as well as to the others – information to the outside world may focus on a known individual, but will expand to help them all in the fight to regain their freedom. But, in the meantime, a prison services official summons Mapanje to sign his own detention order – a particularly brazen and brutal aspect of illegitimate detention, as it feels to the unfortunate prisoner as if he is signing his acceptance of the measure as just and justified. Nevertheless, Mapanje has been advised by Brown and others that refusing on principle to sign the order merely gives the authorities the opportunity to “forget” them in jail. The order reads:
IN EXERCISE of the powers conferred upon me by regulation 3 of the Public Security Regulations, 1965, I, H KAMUZU BANDA, President, considering it to be necessary for the preservation of public order so to do, hereby direct that you, JOHN ALFRED CLEMENT MAPANJE of NA Makanjira, VH Kadango, Mangochi, be detained at any place within Malawi for the time being approved by me as a prison or detention camp for the purposes of the said Regulations. Signed H KAMUZU BANDA, PRESIDENT (115, original italics)
Despite feeling “sickened”, the prisoner signs.
A big point of light in the dull dark of incarceration is the presence and conduct of a lone prison guard whom D4 inmates give the unlikely nickname of Noriega, in recognition of the risks he takes on their behalf while very cleverly maintaining the facade of being just another brutal official. He is the conduit through whom forbidden communications go out from the prison and enter its precincts from the outside world. For an inmate whose family has no visiting privileges, like Mapanje’s, and who therefore feels the isolation of Mikuyu even more acutely than the others, this is a lifeline. Mapanje can get letters of reassurance and requests for protest action out to his beloved wife, Mercy, and their three children, as well as his elderly mother, and to Father Pat O’Malley of St Patrick’s Irish Missionaries, a dear friend and departmental colleague, who passes on the news to David Kerr, another close friend and colleague in another department, and on to Mapanje’s other dear friend, Landeg White, now in the city of York, UK, after having been banished from Malawi. That the protest ball is truly rolling becomes evident when “Noriega” brings letters and declarations, as well as news of support, from PEN International; demonstrations have been held in London, and writers like Nuruddin Farah, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Harold Pinter and many others have protested against his imprisonment. Mapanje at once feels “confused with joy” (137); his careful listing of every action of support and almost every person who spoke out on his behalf is, of course, his way of paying tribute to the efforts of those who have given him and his family essential moral, emotional and material support – much as he also makes no bones about naming names and recording actions of those who have worked his harm.
Small details like having delicious, tasty food and other goodies brought or smuggled in to allow this inmate to celebrate his first (44th) birthday in some semblance of normal style, are touchingly relayed, since one of the very worst aspects of life in Mikuyu is the horrifyingly bad food they are given – and even that in insufficient quantities. Every bit of newspaper, or especially political, news from outside the walls is treasured and lengthily discussed. Many such details are poignant to read about for readers living “safely” at home: a single struggling bean plant; “visiting” creatures, such as moths or even frogs; the occasional glimpse of the moon or stars; and audible family sounds, even such as children crying or dogs barking, are treasured reassurances that, out there, normal life carries on. Mapanje tells us: “Clearly the authorities will hate it if we survive the ordeal they are putting us through. So we intend to embarrass them with our lives; we intend to survive this prison horror” (173). And, writing (on Lifebuoy and Sunlight soap wrappers, mostly) to let family, friends and the world know that they remain alive and resistant to the effects of their unjust imprisonment is quite vital. It also brings cheer simply in being an act of self-expression, communication and a record of enduring emotional and moral strength. At one point, the prisoners’ secret communication system is very nearly exposed when one of Mapanje’s brief, reassuring letters to his wife is found; fortunately, he has used nicknames, and is hence able to prevent Noriega’s exposure; nevertheless, Brown, who is suspected of complicity in the clandestine system, is sent to the “punishment cell” for three days.
A prisoner whose arrival especially perturbs and upsets Mapanje is his colleague Blaise Machila, whose “crime” is that he has been harassing their corrupt university principal, Zimani Kadzamira (who is correctly suspected of having had a big hand in organising Mapanje’s detention), to reveal the latter’s whereabouts for his family’s sake. Not only, therefore, is Machila punished for being brave, loyal and humane, but the man suffers from severe psychological problems requiring specialised treatment, and should not, therefore, be placed in prison. Predictably, Machila’s mental state worsens over time; he attempts to escape, and the even more severe punishment for this sends him over some edge; he eventually distrusts everyone, even Mapanje, who had for a time been his only friend, and refuses to wear clothes. Guilt about the fact that it was his own case that brought Machila to this plight, and anguish at his inability to help his ailing friend, add much to Mapanje’s suffering in Mikuyu. They do attempt to get word out about Machila’s dire state, so pressure from outside results and Machila is eventually released well before Mapanje is. One piece of evidence of “reasons” for Mapanje’s detention that reaches the prisoners is an irritated reply written by Banda himself to the University of Edinburgh members of staff who had written to him asking him to free this man; Banda claims that Mapanje “started using the classroom as a forum for subversive politics” – a claim bereft of truth – and “explains” to the Edinburgh academics that because “this is Malawi in Africa”, Mapanje “had to be picked up and detained” (209, original italics). An occurrence that helps Mapanje to hold out is his exchange with the prison’s veteran inhabitant, Martin Machipisa Munthali – he wants to learn how to use the phonetic signs in the English dictionary he has, in order to improve his knowledge of the language – providing an opportunity also for this elder to encourage Mapanje (as well as other inmates) with heartening words.
After twenty-two months, Mapanje’s family is at last allowed to come on a visit to Mikuyu. Of course, it is as much a joy and relief as agonising to see them under prison conditions. Mapanje learns that, although several colleagues have been wonderfully supportive, others have treated his family as “contaminated”; some even conspired with the principal to have his salary cut off and his family evicted from the university house where they had been living, in order to move into these premises themselves. The family had to move to a smaller town where Mercy could get a nursing job at the local hospital, and now lives in a cramped house which does not allow Mapanje’s mother to continue staying with them, as she had always done. His youngest child, a boy of seven, even asks his father whether what a friend told him at school – that his father had stolen from the university – is the truth! His middle child, a daughter, is unable even to speak during the visit, overwhelmed by the prison circumstances; the parents try to keep their tears secret from their children. Mapanje tells his little son to tell his grandmother that he will come home if she stops crying for him. “‘OK, then,’” says the boy (293). The family also brought welcome food supplies and medicine – malaria, inter alia, being a recurrent problem for Mapanje under the unsavoury prison conditions.
The eighth of the ten sections in the memoir bears the title “The Mandela effect”, for, even in spite of Banda’s political alliance with the apartheid government, this particular wind of change will blow even into Malawi. Banda, who preserves power by means of, inter alia, orchestrated political murders of opponents to his rule who go into exile into neighbouring countries or further abroad, will feel its chilling effect. Cheered by the news of the Mandela-De Klerk negotiations, the prisoners must still try and alleviate their harsh conditions. One achievement, despite all restrictions, is to use dissolved chloroquine tablets left over from malaria treatment, to teach an illiterate prisoner how to write – bringing him immense joy as he pens a personal letter to his wife. He asks Mapanje to check it for him, and the latter is touched by his friend’s “delicate sentiments to his wife” (340). The letter writer is also an epileptic sufferer, and fellow prisoners always tried to comfort and help him when attacks came, but they all consider their assistance in his literacy acquirement the greatest help they could give him.
After being kept – agonisingly – in prison when, at first two, and later on twenty-two, of his fellow inmates are released, including some of his best “prison friends” and staunchest allies, Jack Mapanje is, at last (without the assurance of the outcome), summoned to the office of the officer-in-charge of Mikuyu Prison. He is told that he will, later that day, be taken to the southern region police headquarters in Blantyre. Daring to ask the Mikuyu officer what the likely reason/s for the summons might be, the man replies “frankly” that he does not know; he mentions three possible outcomes: the first is that further evidence of criminality might have come to light and, if so, resulting charges might see him either returned to the same or transferred to another prison; the second is that he is being released, and the third (only darkly hinted at) that Mapanje is being set up for final political elimination, ie murder. Disquieting rather than reassuring as the speculation may be, Mapanje thanks the officer for his “candour” (354). His cellmates pray for him as he bids them a quick farewell, then he is taken off to the office of McWilliam Lunguzi, previously mentioned in the introductory section of this piece. As related previously, he is released unconditionally. He goes first to the home of his dear friend David Kerr, whose daughter, his wife’s niece, welcomes him with open mouth – and arms! – and offers him a warm shepherd’s pie, eaten with proper cutlery on a clean plate – a luxury after three and a half years of prison food! Mapanje telephones his wife to announce his release and, when David returns home, his friend decides that he can still be driven to Mercy’s new home the very same night. To be able to see the whole moon on the way seems a miracle.
With Mapanje reunited with Mercy and his little boy, a caring neighbour soon joins them to unite in a small thanksgiving service. Many, many local people have, as much as his family, prayed and even tried all available traditional remedies to ensure his release. He hears, at last, the sad details of his beloved mother’s passing some months earlier, surmising that she had thought ahead to their probable need to go live abroad as a family, and had chosen to die so that they would not have to agonize about leaving her behind. Predictably, perhaps, his attempts to return to his old university job get blocked by a number of individuals; leaving for the UK and the chance of academic employment there (with the assistance of the British and German embassies) seems the only sensible option, and is reluctantly decided upon. The tipping point is reached when he is warned from many quarters that his life is in danger from those who hate him for his stance, and not even his family is safe. The last part of the memoir describes the family’s early days in the UK, which, after the initial euphoria and celebrations of his safety, are by no means the proverbial “rose garden”, including, inter alia, the family’s harassment by thuggish, racist neighbourhood youth, and employment difficulties. But, eventually, they settle with reasonable prospects and the relief of safety.
I end this account of the memoir with Mapanje’s own words, written in response to the usual clichéd injunctions to “let bygones be bygones” (Malawians have, after all, defeated Banda in the meantime in their first democratic elections; his cronies have lost power and position, and the old tyrant himself died of a brain tumour at the age of 99 in a South African hospital), or to “forgive and forget”:
Forgive perhaps we can; forget we could not possibly do; only death can erase that [the “deaths and misery” caused by the tyrant and his coterie for “thousands of Malawians”]. First, to forget is not to be virtuous, it is to be grossly disingenuous. It is tantamount to telling further lies that Banda’s so-called rebels were not murdered, exiled, imprisoned and deported without discussion, trial or charge when thousands of them were. Second, however much we might deny, ignore or hide the injustices of the past, truth will eventually catch up with us. We must, therefore, talk frankly about the evil and injustices that were going on … (429)
Every open-minded reader will admire the candour and courage of this memoir of a dark time of shared, endured pain and injustice. Those that Banda had wanted (in his own words) to “rot, rot, rot in jail”, survived and triumphed. Mapanje’s memoir is, itself, a monument to steadfastness in endurance of oppression, more important and imposing (I dare say) than the $620 000 mausoleum constructed for President Banda by his second successor, President Bingu wa Mutharika, who considers Hastings Kamuzu Banda a “true Malawi hero”, according to a 28 May 2006 report in The Southern Times of Malawi.