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Last Updated: Friday, 13 May, 2005, 08:28 GMT 09:28 UK
New tomb for Malawi's Banda
By Aubrey Sumbuleta
BBC News, Lilongwe

Work has begun on a new mausoleum for Malawi's autocratic first president, Hastings Kamuzu Banda, but some feel the money would be better used buying food.

Builders working on the site
The mausoleum is on course to be ready in November
Harvests in one of the world's poorest countries have been poor once more.

The idea of building a mausoleum has been around for many years but construction only started following last year's election victory of President Bingu wa Mutharika.

Banda, the self-styled "president-for-life" ruled the country with an iron fist for three decades, but was finally beaten at the ballot box in 1994 in the country's first multi-party elections.

After his death three years later, he was buried in a humble grave.

The multi-million dollar mausoleum is expected to have, among other things, a library, a dancing arena, a viewing bay for Banda's remains and a research centre where people can find out information about Malawi's history.

'Well-deserved'

The project architect for Banda's mausoleum, Knight Munthali, says work is progressing well.

President Banda
Banda made himself 'president-for-life'
"You can see the chamber which houses the original tomb where Kamuzu is resting," he says.

"It is on two levels. The lower level is the chamber. The upper level is a public area with a replica of the tomb and lighting that will make it visible even at night."

He did not mention libraries or dance-floors, but the scale of the project is still impressive.

During the first official visit, were members of the Banda family.

"We are very happy with the progress being made on the construction site," says their spokesperson, Ken Kandodo.

"We have been informed today that 10% of the work has been done. And the project is on schedule for completion in November. If you consider what Dr Banda did for this country, all that is being planned is well deserved."

Whether there is hunger or not, the dead are always given their due respect
Henry Chimunthu Banda
Culture minister (no relation)
But John Tembo, Banda's former right-hand man and the leader of his party, has some reservations about the project.

"I am happy that it has started but I am not sure sufficient is being done to honour him," he says.

"I think we are rushing it. We want to make sure that it is done properly."

Since the project kicked off two months ago, people have expressed mixed feelings about the mausoleum.

Waste of money

While some support the government's plans, others feel the authorities should concentrate on the acute shortage of food that is facing Malawi this year.

"The project is good, because Kamuzu is the father and founder of this nation," said one man in the capital, Lilongwe.

Banda's coffin
Banda's funeral was an elaborate affair
"We are just wasting our 65 million for this graveyard," said another man.

"People in Malawi are suffering from different diseases and they are hungry. The government should deal with this hunger. So my view is that I am not happy with this mausoleum."

Culture Minister Henry Chimunthu Banda (no relation of the former ruler) says the government has a duty to honour the dead, as well as look after the living.

"Culturally, whether there is hunger or not, the dead are always given their due respect," he says.

"What we are doing here is not wasting money. We are honouring the former head of state."

Hastings Kamuzu Banda died in November 1997.

Despite mixed feelings about the construction, it seems like the mausoleum will be finished in November - in time for the eighth anniversary of his death.

What do you think? Is this a waste of money or a suitable memorial? How important is it to honour the dead?

This debate has now closed. Here is a selection of your comments:

As an African, it is saddening to see how ignorant our African leaders are. Kamuzu Banda was a fighter for the liberation of Malawi against white oppression, therefore an African hero. From the moment he began oppressing his own people, he became a villan and history should hold him to account, just as the Russians did in denouncing Stalin after his death in 1953. People are dying of AIDS, hunger and poverty in Malawi and yet their leaders are spending so much money on a grave and saying that despite the colossal death rate of their people the project should continue. Is it not enough that his casket was golden? By making such dubious financial decisions it shows that the 'cancer' destroying africa is not just its debt but selfish, arrogant and small minded African politicans with the me, me, me and some more for me syndrome.
Thando Siziba , London, United Kingdom

A monument for the late Dr. Hastings Kamuzu is needed to remind the squabbling now going on in the country that we miss him. He kept Malawi peaceful without any military intervention. He was foresighted by introducing Classics in schools for think tanks. He encouraged farming by example.
Tsimbamba Tsakamutsu, Lilongwe, Malawi

I feel the construction was supposed to be carried out soon after Kamuzu died. Therefore I support it because I am sure Malawi will never find another wise leader like him.
Sydney Mkata, Blantyre in Malawi

Another monument to despotism, just what Africa needs.
Andy, UK

In most poor African coutries,like Malawi, those in power decide the fate of the country, hence the fate of the poor majority. Malawian officials know well enough that malawi is one of the countries in africa that are suffering from acute shortage of food. Personally, i am dumbfounded at reading such irritating news - constructing a mausoleum for a dictator to the disappointment of poor malawians. This immoral decision to go on with the construction is a reflection of the insensitivity of the current officails to thier people.
weldu ghebreyesus, asmara, eritrea

Banda deserves a monument. So does Nkruma, Azikiwe etc. It is history and has nothing to do with being despot, dictator etc. China has their Mao everywhere, Britain has Wellington, Churchill, France Napoleon, De Gaulle and Italy Mussolini. And I am not in favour of angry citizens tearing down these monuments in the event of political upheavals etc. Let Malawi build this monument no matter the cost. Monuments are vestiges that will continue to stand there and remind future generations of people and events that characterised a given period, century in any country's history.
Ngozi, Geneva, Switzerland

It is a waste of money to built a mausoleum for Kamuzu Banda . The man was a dictator.Look at Pope John Paul II's coffin - so simple Stop building that thing.Feed the starving Malawians.
Chauncy Mopho Jere, Los Angeles ,California .USA

Africa must monumentalise their history. This way you get pride and self worth 500 years later. If King Leopold is honoured in Belgium, despite the heart of darkness, then Banda surely deserves a little footnote in Africa's monuments.
KIP, Joburg SA

Kamuzu deserves more than whatever we can do because Malawi is where she is because of him - no tribal wars and peaceful.
Colvin Chirwa, Nottingham

Brilliant Colvin - Malawi is also one of the poorest countries in the world and facing yet another year of famine. I grew up under Banda's thumb, and, judging by your name, so did you. Do you remember being forced out of school by the police to stand on the road for hours to applaud his motorcade as it passed on it's way to the airport? Or nervously looking over your shoulder to see who might be spying on what you were saying? The man was a disgrace but still not as bad as the cronies that surrounded him and fed him the information they thought he wanted to know, cutting him off from the potholes and poverty that diseased my lovely country.
S, Planet Earth

The mausoleum is indeed a befiting respect for the father and founder of the Malawi Nation, Ngwazi Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda. But the timing! And the moral / religious implication. Do people know that, today, now, somewhere in Malawi, there's somebody who doesn't have any food in the house? Oh, the Merciful God, postpone the construction and feed the people.
Kamchanda, Leeds, UK

Kamuzu Banda should have a monument bulit in his honour. Although a dictator, in the Banda years crimes such as murder and theft were unheard of and his people were never starved. Banda did the best for Malawi and always had Malawi's interests ay heart. Just look what democracy has done to Malawi. Murders and theft are common and nearly all the houses have burglar bars and electric fencing to keep intruders out. This was not the case in the Banda years. The currency has devalued from once being 2 kwacha to the pound to over 205 kwacha today. The democracy in Malawi has taken Malawi back 200 years and it has to take alot of time to make up the standards set by Kamuzu Banda. Banda without doubt did the best for Malawi and now you have politicians stealing public funds and abusing government funds. Banda will always be the number one leader for Malawi. He deserves a monument.
Chiraag Patel, Leicester England

As a former president, Kamuzu is part of our history and deserves that new mausoleum. Even if, the money is deviated to buying food, hunger will still be there due to our poor agricultural policies.
Grivin Chipula, Leuven, Belgium

A multi-million dollar monument to a man who treated his people with contempt, enforced racial segregation and was generally an embarassment (banning flared trousers etc)! Why are we surprised and hurt when the world takes a dim view of us Africans when we constantly shoot ourselves in the foot?
Juma Boy,

It is the nature and culture of Africans to honour the dead, no matter what their past live was. That culture should not be allowed to die just because the west is singing 'democracy' Let the project for Banda go on. Tomorrow, future Malawians will have the privelege to see the remains of the man who thought he could be "president for life" but was proved wrong. That vestige will itself be a lesson from history. Most of our African leaders are guilty of not learning from history.
ADEWUMI AKIN-OJO, Birmingham, United Kingdom




SEE ALSO:
Malawi mulls democracy decade
05 Jun 03 |  Africa
Mystery of the Banda millions
17 May 00 |  Africa
Country profile: Malawi
10 Jan 01 |  Country profiles


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