People parade with the Malawi’s new flag, on August 7, 2010 in Blantyre. InternationalIndiaAfricaMartyrs’ Day is a public holiday in Malawi that is observed every year on March 3. The holiday is celebrated to honor the country’s heroes who laid down their lives in the struggle for independence from Britain. The date is based on the day of an uprising against the colonial authorities that took place in 1959.Many young people in African countries “take everything for granted” in regards to their nation’s independence and its history, and don’t know what their predecessors went through, how much they sacrificed to achieve the future their descendants live in, says Dr. John Lwanda, research affiliate at Glasgow University, Scotland, in an interview with Sputnik. According to Dr. Lwanda, the problem of ignorance can be seen across the continent, including South Africa and Malawi, where the youth is not “taught the history of the struggle” and not even interested in “the whys and hows” of the nationalist fight for independence. As for Martyrs’ Day in Malawi, he notes that the holiday should be very important to young people, but it has been observed as a ritual or tradition for years with almost no profound understanding of its background.
"During the latter days of Dr. Banda [Hastings Kamuzu Banda, first president of Malawi], Martyrs' Day was like a religious ritual. People went through the motions without actually thinking about it. So it is the same as now, when many young people in Africa are not taught the history of the struggle," Dr. Lwanda states.
One of the reasons for this, he explains, is the global trend of materialism that prevails in contemporary work and life and which is “geared toward foreign aspects” of living. Dr. Lwanda elaborates that young people now are more attracted to consumerism, and this can be regarded as an effect of so-called neocolonialism. According to the expert, the colonial system has made Malawi “a consumer nation rather than a producer” one. He underlines that young people should be taught the history of their nation in greater detail. But the difficulties also lie in the education system itself, as it “is very stratified.” Some youngsters are not getting education because their parents can’t afford it, while those who are receiving it “are from elite families.”Another aspect in which the neocolonial influence can be traced, according to Dr. Lwanda, is the way how Martyrs’ Day was conceived. There are two other days in Malawi during which people commemorate the political heroes who fought for the independence of the country. But on those, days people honor individuals, while on Martyrs’ Day, all the “martyrs” are remembered.
"So essentially, we are still following a sort of British history. And this question of lumping together martyrs into one whole Martyrs' Day, without naming them, follows this sort of a neocolonial history patter," he stresses.
He specified the reference to British history by giving an example of David Livingstone, an explorer in Africa. He underlines that Livingstone was definitely guided by Africans across the continent, but their names are not mentioned in the records. The same applies to the martyrs, he adds.On January 15, Chilembwe Day, Malawians celebrate the life of John Chilembwe, who in 1915 organized the first armed uprising against the British colonial authorities.On May 14, Kamuzu Day, people remember the country’s first President Hasatings Kamuzu Banda, who led the later part of the nationalist movement. Dr. Lwanda explains that it was typical of African national movements that when independence was gained, the nationalist leader became the first president. He notes that “understandably and inevitably, there was a cult of personality around him.” Therefore, the declaration of Martyrs’ Day had some political issues behind it. First, by the time the nation became independent, the ideologies of some of the fighters for independence had changed from Banda’s, and “it was very difficult to praise individual matters.” Second, given the cult of personality that was unfolded at that time, the president “didn’t want too many names mentioned.” Thus, he states, “everybody was lumped together into Martyrs’ Day,” and regardless of the political situation, the country has to remember all people who fought for independence and contributed to the nation’s future. AfricaMartyrs’ Day in Malawi: Remembering Those Who Sacrificed Their Lives for Independence3 March, 15:33 GMTAccording to Dr. Lwanda, an uprising against the British in Nyasaland, modern-day Malawi, which took place on March 3, 1959, had a significant impact on subsequent events in the country’s struggle for independence. As a result of the uprising, the nationalist leaders and their supporters were detained and held at various camps. He states that people were subjected to “terrible conditions,” being locked up in their cells, deprived of food, and “allowed to exercise for a limited period.” He emphasizes that the British thought that by detaining the nation’s leaders, they would weaken the nationalist movement, but they made it even stronger.
"From a logical point of view, if you bring people who are fighting for a cause together in prisons or camps, they tend to strategize. You give them the opportunity to bond," he explains.
Dr. Lwanda underscores that instead of delaying, the colonial authorities accelerated the movement towards independence. Therefore, this day is particularly important to the nation and should be remembered as the day when the country made a significant step towards sovereignty.