Relatives make emotive appeal to exhume, repatriate remains of freedom fighter Dr Attati Mpakati from Zimbabwe to Malawi

Written by  Felix Mponda, Undule Mwakasungura and Conleith Sellenje

Among the beautiful and expensive tombstones at a cemetery in the Zimbabwe capital Harare, only one graveyard has a slab marked 337.

Unsung Malawian hero Dr Attati Mpakati: His relatives want his remains exhumed and repatriated to Malawi from Zimbabwe. Pic by Lost History Foundation. Unsung Malawian hero Dr Attati Mpakati: His relatives want his remains exhumed and repatriated to Malawi from Zimbabwe. Pic by Lost History Foundation.

Zimbabweans probably get curious why all these years this slab has never been properly tomb-stoned with terrazzo and a plague placed on its head.


But the people who have answers are several Malawians, who have kept watch of this graveyard.


Interred in this grave is one of Malawi’s unsung hero and gallant freedom fighter: Dr Attati Mpakati, leader of the former exiled Socialist League of Malawi (LESOMA).


Simply called Attati (a Yao language title for father), a title he upheld and was proud of, Attati along with his lieutenants fought against the one party dictatorship of Dr Kamuzu Banda, and Malawi’s first Republican president who ruled the country with an iron fist for three decades from 1964 to 1994.


Bandastan system of government


Mpakati code-named the Banda system of government the Bandastan. Banda lost power in 1994 to his former minister and former MCP secretary general Bakili Muluzi, in the first multi-party elections.


A native of Masikini Village in Traditional Authority Likoswe, Chiradzulu, in the Southern Region of Malawi, Mpakati  was born in the 1930s in a family of 14 children. He was the second born.


He did his primary school at Nguludi Catholic School and became one of the militant anti-colonial Nyasaland National Congress.


He was detained and left Malawi in 1961, without saying bye to his neither parents nor relatives. The relatives were never to see their son again.


What really made Mpakati to be one of Banda’s arch-enemies?


Having received education in Russian and Swedish universities and qualifying as an Economist, Mpakati absorbed Communist Ideologies of governance.


He saw and witnessed how Communism progressed and benefitted the less privileged in Russia. He saw how the economy was being balanced to benefit the Russian populace.


With a vivid recollection of the state of affairs back home in his country, Attati was ignited to bring an overhaul to the system of governance in Malawi.


From his philosophy, analysis and observation, Socialism would work better in Malawi. This, plus a sound democracy, could practically lay a cradle for a better and prosperous nation.


Mpakati really knew the danger of the path he was trotting on. He actually knew the Capitalist Bloc (mainly Britain and America) who swore never to regard Communism as one of the systems of governance which could rightly work for a people of Africa let alone Britain's former colony, Malawi.


He advocated his vision during the very height of the period of the Iron Curtain.


Communism or ideas of Communism targeting a British former colony meant a gross reduction and minimization of the influence of the Western Bloc on the affairs of the Central African region.
Formation of LESOMA


However, the Chiradzulu son felt it was an obligation for him to spearhead 'Change' in Malawi. In later years, he formed the Socialist League of Malawi (LESOMA) with the likes of Ambassador Archibald Mwakasungura, Grey Kamuyambeni, Jando Nkhwazi, Reggie Mhango and others, with the primary aim of ending Dr Banda’s regime thorough democratic means and bring social justice, equality, harmony and peace to Malawi.


Back home in Nyasaland, Kamuzu Banda, who was pro-western enjoyed Western support and demonised Communism as a failed system for nations. Malawians believed him.


Kamuzu's hate of Communism could even be traced back to the 1964 Cabinet Crisis during which he accused the so called dissident Ministers of hatching ideas of Communism.


Under his government, any literature explaining and advocating Communism was banned.


The education system was designed not to have any trace of Communist content.

Mpakati, because of his Communist ideologies, was labelled an ‘enemy of the state.’

Kamuzu regarded him as a threat to his government and the whole Western Bloc to which Kamuzu himself was an asset. He was then determined to eliminate Mpakati at all cost.

Attati assassinated in cold blood


And on 23rd March, 1983, his effort paid off. Mpakati was assassinated in cold blood in the heart of Harare by alleged Banda’s agents, as he openly stepped up his fight against the Bandastan.

He was buried at a cemetery by the Zimbabwe Government, without a decent burial. Back home, his death was celebrated by the one-party leadership because one of the thorns in the flesh of Banda had been eliminated.

His relatives mourned him in silence, afraid that any attempt to inquire from authorities about their “beloved son” –considered a dissident (chigawenga) —would be met with jail without trial. Nobody dared.

Consequently, he became one of the hated exiled politicians alongside Orton Chirwa in Zambia, Kanyama Chiume in Tanzania and Henry Chipembere in the USA. At all his rallies, Kamuzu Banda used to denounce them, much to the joy of his Malawi Congress Party supporters.

In 1979, Mpakati, who used to travel in southern Africa under cover, was nearly killed in Maputo in Mozambique when his two fingers were blown off by a letter bomb.

Nobody claimed responsibility, but no guess work on who could have been responsible.

After this incident, Mpakati is said to have written an open letter to Dr. Banda (quoted):

“It is a waste of time spending the country’s resources trying to kill me. The people are going to oppose you whether I, Mpakati, live or die. Democracy, Justice and Human Rights are on the agenda for the future Malawi.”

True to his prophecy, Malawi embraced democratic reforms in 1993 and a year later Dr Banda was vanquished in the country’s first multi-party polls, ending three decades of ruthless dictatorship.


Siblings of Dr Attati Mpakati from Masikini village, T/A Likoswe in Chiradzulu, have made an emotivate appeal to have Dr Mpakati's remains exhumed and repatriated to Malawi for a decent burial. Pic by Felix Mponda, MBC Online.


Relatives appeal for closure, repatriation of remains for decent burial

Some 37 years after Mpakati’s assassination, his relatives from Masikini Village have made an emotive appeal to have closure and have his remains exhumed and repatriated home for a “decent burial to have his soul rest in peace at home,” Bertha, sister to Mpakati said at the third memorial seminar held in Blantyre on March 22.


The seminar was organised by ‘Friends of Attati Mpakati’ and Lost History Foundation (LHF) an organisation whose objective is to repair Malawi's history, lobby for the ‘Honouring of Heroes and Heroines’ and disseminate the correct history of Malawi which was concealed during the one party regime. LHF uses video documentaries, seminars and literature to achieve this aim.

The Organisation is producing a documentary on the life of Mpakati among other important historical and controversial topics still shrouded in secrecy.


Bertha and Stephano, a brother to Attati, were at the seminar, alongside remnants of LESOMA, including Frank Jiya, the only surviving member of Yatuta Chisiza group that invaded Mwanza in 1967 with the aim of overthrowing Dr Banda and prominent governance and rights activist Undule Mwakasungula, one of the founding members of Centre for Human rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) an organisation which was formed by students who came back from exile under the Malawi Student Union of LESOMA , (MASULE)


Krishna Achutan, a son-in-law of the late distinguished politician Aleke Banda, also graced the seminar, where glowing tributes were poured to Mpakati.


Bertha Mpakati (left), a representative of the Mpakati family, pictured with officials from the Lost History Foundation and former cadres of LESOMA at the Mpakati third memorial serminar on March 22 in Blantyre. Pic by Felix Mponda, MBC Online.


Promise to build tombstone for unsung hero


Mwakasungula, a cadre of LESOMA, promised “to work with concerned Malawians to build a tombstone for Attati Mpakati and to bring his remains as an honour to the unsung freedom fighter.”


He said he would work with The Lost History Foundation, government and other Malawians to fulfill the request. “He is our hero. Let’s start by bringing the remains of Attati back home to Malawi. We shall do something about this.”

Mwakasungula said they can build the tombstone as they did with Michael Sauka, composer of the Malawi national anthem.

“Attati inspired some of us to be activists and freedom fighters. The Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation is one of the fruits and products stemming from the influence of Mpakati,” he said.

Lost History Foundation Executive Director Conleith Chester Sellenje said the repatriation programme “will be set by writing to the Government and finding resources. We shall go to Zimbabwe to start the process,” he said, adding that Attati was a hero and democracy champion who deserves a decent burial.


Attati died a poor man: Jiya

Jiya, who turns 80 this year but still looks energetic and healthy, told the seminar that despite the Mpakati family losing their sibling Attati, the man lives on and belongs to all Malawians and he ought to be declared a hero alongside journalist Mkwapatira Mhango (who was petrol bombed in Lusaka at his house where his two wives and eight children died, including a 9 months baby), Masauko Chipembere, Orton and Vera Chirwa and scores of Malawians who died in mysterious circumstances during the one-party era.

He said Attati, just like late Tanzanian independence leader Julius Nyerere, “died a poor man because he was always on the side of the people.”

Jiya, who served in the military wing of LESOMA, said Attati had great plans for Malawi. “He deserves respect. He is a true martyr.”


He said Malawi needs to recognise all martyrs and historians should write their “bad or good stories” about their lives.


Achutan, who narrated his entry into democratic politics in the early 90s and his arrest after a BBC Focus on Africa interview in which he demanded that Aleke be released without conditions, saluted The Lost History Foundation “for bringing out the true history of Malawi and closing the vacuum of our past.”


Malawians need to know their history: Achutan


“Malawians need to know their history. We shall never know where we are coming from if we don’t know our history,” he said.

He said hundreds of Malawians have fought for justice, freedom and democracy in Malawi and their stories, just like how the LHF is doing; need to be recorded in all forms of manner including films and books.


LHF believes it was time to set Malawi’s history straight and true.

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