Nyasaland Independence Leader Banda Is Arrested by British Colonials Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Hastings Kamuzu Banda advocated secession of his homeland Nyasaland from an unpopular federation imposed by the United Kingdom in 1953. His opposition to British rule led to his imprisonment by British colonials for one year. Within three years of his release, the federation was dissolved, and Banda became the first prime minister of newly independent and renamed Malawi.

Summary of Event

On March 3, 1959, Hastings Kamuzu Banda was arrested along with other members of the Nyasaland African Congress Nyasaland African Congress (NAC) for agitating for the liberation from British rule of Nyasaland, a southeast African protectorate. The British outlawed NAC to squelch the independence movement and accused its leaders, Banda among them, of planning to slaughter the Europeans living in the country. Banda was imprisoned in Gwelo prison in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). He was fifty-four years old. Anticolonial movements;Nyasaland Nationalism;Nyasaland British Empire;dissolution Human rights;Nyasaland [kw]Nyasaland Independence Leader Banda Is Arrested by British Colonials (Mar. 3, 1959) [kw]Independence Leader Banda Is Arrested by British Colonials, Nyasaland (Mar. 3, 1959) [kw]Banda Is Arrested by British Colonials, Nyasaland Independence Leader (Mar. 3, 1959) [kw]Arrested by British Colonials, Nyasaland Independence Leader Banda Is (Mar. 3, 1959) [kw]British Colonials, Nyasaland Independence Leader Banda Is Arrested by (Mar. 3, 1959) Anticolonial movements;Nyasaland Nationalism;Nyasaland British Empire;dissolution Human rights;Nyasaland [g]Africa;Mar. 3, 1959: Nyasaland Independence Leader Banda Is Arrested by British Colonials[06060] [g]Malawi;Mar. 3, 1959: Nyasaland Independence Leader Banda Is Arrested by British Colonials[06060] [g]Nyasaland;Mar. 3, 1959: Nyasaland Independence Leader Banda Is Arrested by British Colonials[06060] [g]Rhodesia;Mar. 3, 1959: Nyasaland Independence Leader Banda Is Arrested by British Colonials[06060] [g]Zimbabwe;Mar. 3, 1959: Nyasaland Independence Leader Banda Is Arrested by British Colonials[06060] [c]Independence movements;Mar. 3, 1959: Nyasaland Independence Leader Banda Is Arrested by British Colonials[06060] [c]Government and politics;Mar. 3, 1959: Nyasaland Independence Leader Banda Is Arrested by British Colonials[06060] [c]Colonialism and occupation;Mar. 3, 1959: Nyasaland Independence Leader Banda Is Arrested by British Colonials[06060] Banda, Hastings Kamuzu Kadzamira, Cecilia Tamanda Muluzi, Bakili Tembo, John Chiume, Kanyama

Banda’s life to this point had not suggested that he would become a freedom fighter. He was a highly trained and successful medical doctor who had practiced in England and Ghana. He had not reached his success easily. Born around 1898 to poor peasant parents in the Kasunga district, Nyasaland, and named Kamuzu (“little root,” because root herbs were credited with curing his mother’s infertility), he ran away from home at age thirteen after a few years of education at a mission school. He walked 1,000 miles to South Africa to work as an interpreter in the Rand gold mines. There, encouraged by a Methodist bishop to continue his education, he saved his money until, in 1925, he could travel to the United States. There he enrolled in the academy at historically black Wilberforce University in Ohio, graduating after three years. He went on to the University of Chicago and then to all-black Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee. Receiving his medical degree in 1937, he studied next in Edinburgh, Scotland, for his British medical license, and finally set up his mostly white general practice in London.

He was away from his homeland of Nyasaland for forty years, during which time he forgot much of his native tongue. He was kept abreast of events in Nyasaland and other European-dominated African countries by exiled African rebel leaders like Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah and Kenya’s Jomo Kenyatta. When the British formed the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland in 1953, joining his country with the two white-dominated Rhodesias, he felt betrayed by those who had portrayed themselves as Christian protectors. He and others opposed the federation because the racially discriminatory policies of Southern Rhodesia would almost certainly be applied in Nyasaland, depriving blacks of even more rights. The federation proposed to be self-governing with its own assembly and prime minister for each country, but it allowed little indigenous African representation in the government and no black African suffrage. As other African colonies were pulling from under European dominance, Banda believed that it was time for Nyasaland to break free as well.

Banda returned to Nyasaland to become the president of NAC in 1958, leading members and supporters in a vigorous campaign against the federation. The freedom movement caused many violent clashes between NAC supporters and colonial authorities. Many blacks were killed, arrested without trial, or deported. The one black lawyer and one black doctor were among those deported. No European was killed, yet a state of emergency was declared when it was rumored there was a plot to massacre whites. The British summarily banned NAC, allowing the authorities legally to arrest any NAC members or supporters. Banda, as its president, was one of the first arrested. Many supporters surrounded his home to protect him from the arresting authorities, but tear gas dispersed them, and Banda was dragged, in his bathrobe, from his house and hauled off to an airplane and to exile in Southern Rhodesia. Of the other NAC leaders, Kanyama Chiume, who had led the organization prior to Banda’s return to Nyasaland, was another target of the arrest raids, but he was in Kenya at the time and so escaped.

Although the authorities admitted there were few grounds for arresting Banda, who had not advocated disobedience to the existing laws, they said he failed to take into account the “political immaturity” of his followers and therefore was responsible for the resulting strikes, riots, and violence occurring before and after his arrest. Nyasas agitated for Banda’s release, but with only clubs and rocks as weapons, they failed to fend off the authorities’ nine-day operation that detained every black male “for questioning” and stemmed the general unrest. With guns, planes, police, and army troops from Nyasaland, Southern Rhodesia, and Tanganyika, and many white vigilantes designated as “special constables,” the authorities had little difficulty overwhelming the opposition.

In prison, Banda was treated with some degree of indulgence and confined in a “white man’s cell” instead of a communal cell. During the year he was in prison, he wrote his memoirs and considered ways to effect change in his homeland. He thought his country should remain part of the British Commonwealth, believing Londoners would be more fair to black Africans than the white settlers in the Rhodesias and Nyasaland. He thought a more reasonable federation should include Nyasaland, Tanganyika, Uganda, and parts of Northern Rhodesia, Mozambique, and the Belgian Congo, and that the federation should take the name “Malawi.” When Nyasaland became independent, he thought it should still have European ministers in its cabinet.

When Banda was released from prison, his popularity with his countrymen had not waned. While his European detractors called him a fanatical rabble-rouser, his supporters called him a savior, liberator, and messiah. He took over leadership of the successor to NAC, the Malawi National Congress, and worked with British authorities for Nyasaland’s independence. In 1963 the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland was dissolved, Nyasaland was granted self-government, and Banda was appointed prime minister. In 1964 the country gained its independence and took the name Malawi. In 1966, Malawi became a republic and Banda became its first president. By 1971 he became president-for-life and went on to rule the country until 1994, when he was forced to permit a multiparty election. He lost the election to Bakili Muluzi, whom he had once fired as a cabinet minister.


Banda was well into his sixties when he came to power and in his nineties when he left office. At first his policies improved the country’s agriculture, education, trade, and other aspects of life, but he also made some unpopular decisions, such as allowing Europeans to retain considerable influence in Malawi and establishing diplomatic relations with apartheid South Africa.

Over the years he amassed a personal fortune said to be anywhere from $300 million to more than $400 million. He grew more and more autocratic, tolerating no opposition and alienating many of his former colleagues, such as Chiume, whom he declared his worst enemy and had exiled to Tanzania. However, he relied heavily on the advice and vigilance of others, especially John Tembo, his éminence grise and the power behind the throne as well as uncle of the woman Banda chose as his “first lady,” Cecilia Tamanda Kadzamira. His constant companion for years and the mother of their son, she would control access to him as he grew older.

In 1983, Banda had brain surgery but was back at work within two months. The multiparty elections in 1994 that finally defeated him showed how disenchanted the Malawians were with their longtime president’s lavish lifestyle in contrast to their own declining living conditions. Retired from public life in 1995, Banda, close to one hundred years old, was put under house arrest and charged with the 1983 murders of three government ministers and a member of parliament, but acquitted at trial. He died in 1997 of respiratory failure at Garden City Clinic in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Banda was a symbol of what a black African could do to reach his or her greatest potential and, by extension, what a black African country could do to improve itself. He started from almost nothing and raised himself to a position of education and prominence that demonstrated to his countrymen that anything is possible. When Banda was arrested for promoting the same freedom and opportunities he had experienced, the people of Nyasaland recognized him as a leader with the ability to help them from their oppressed state to independence and self-reliance. Banda served his time in prison and came forth unscathed in spirit by the punishment and with the determination to free his people for the yoke of colonialism. Anticolonial movements;Nyasaland Nationalism;Nyasaland British Empire;dissolution Human rights;Nyasaland

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Baker, Colin. Revolt of the Ministers: The Malawi Cabinet Crisis, 1964-1985. New York: I. B. Tauris, 2001. Discusses how and when most of the Malawi cabinet ministers resigned or were dismissed and even fled the country after decolonization. Describes postindependence problems faced by Malawi as Banda’s autocracy grew.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Phillips, Henry. From Obscurity to Bright Dawn: How Nyasaland Became Malawi. Oxford, England: Radcliffe Press, 1998. Describes Banda’s rise to power as prime minister. Gives a favorable account of Banda as prime minister and as president.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Sindima, Harvey J. Malawi’s First Republic: An Economic and Political Analysis. Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 2002. The first full-length study of Malawi’s postcolonial period under Banda’s tenure, from 1964 to 1994. Discusses the historical background, from precolonial days to the 1960’s, patterns of economic development, foreign and regional policy, and how Banda consolidated his power.

Formation of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland

Africa’s Year of Independence

Southern Rhodesian Freedom Fighters Begin Toppling White Supremacist Government

Categories: History