And Crocodiles are Hungry at Night – One regime’s epilogue is another’s warning

Malawian-born poet, university lecturer and former Amnesty prisoner of conscience Jack Mapanje’s prison memoir “And Crocodiles are Hungry at Night” chronicles his arrest and imprisonment without charge in Malawi in 1987 during the reign of the country’s former Life President Kamuzu Banda.  Held without charge for four years, Mapanje wrote “And Crocodiles are Hungry at Night” to “probe the hidden motives for this arrest” and “attempt to provide an unforgettable record of the architecture of imprisonment and the perpetual struggle between the forces of truth and those of naked power.”

Actors perform the epilogue of Jack Mapanje's prison memoir-come-play "And Crocodiles are Hungry at Night" at Nanzikambe Arts theatre in Naperi.

On March 5, coincidentally the national Martyrs Day holiday, I watched the Nanzikambe Arts Development Organization’s theatrical performance of Mapanje’s memoir.

I can still hear the delivery of the epilogue, Mapanje’s warning to future leaders to “avoid treading the despotic and corrupt paths of the past” and “spare us the violence, injustices and siege mentality that characterised Banda’s regime” and “please give us the peace and freedom we have been crying out for these years.”

I hope somehow current President Bingu wa Mutharika will hear it too.

And Crocodiles are Hungry at Night


MAUREEN     3 March 2012. Saturday [or whatever the date of the performance]

AARON          When Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda came to power, he started well. But when he declared himself President for Life and sacked his cabinet, power went to his head and he became indifferent to his people’s problems

MISHECK       Anyone who expressed grief at what was souring the long-cherished hopes of freedom, debate and true independence were branded as ‘rebels’ and ‘traitors’.

JAFALI           Banda actually ordered his Young Pioneers to act against any who were against him

THLUPEGO [as BANDA]        Tell the police, but if they do nothing, I put you above the police. And crocodiles are hungry at night.

HUSSEIN        Chaos was unleashed

MPHUNDU     The prisons were choked with thousands of dissenters who were merely presumed to have been the regime’s opponents

JAFALI           Banda built a new prison in every district

AARON          Those not imprisoned were abducted from their homes at night and driven in Malawi Congress Party landrovers at breakneck speeds to the Shire river where they became meat for hungry crocodiles

MAUREEN     Today, fifteen years after Banda’s death, we are told to forget about the pain and suffering that the tyrant and his coterie inflicted on us

DIPO               The deaths and misery they caused thousands of Malawians belong to the past and we must move on, they say.

MPHUNDU     We do not even need the kind of truth and reconciliation that South Africa had so that those who were responsible for the atrocities could be brought to book

THLUPEGO    Or could at least accept and apologise

MISHECK       But I beg to differ. And vehemently so

DIPO               Those who suffered under Banda and his Kadzamira-Tembo cabal cannot afford to forget the brutalities

HUSSEIN        Forgive, perhaps. Forget: no. Only death can erase that.

DIPO               We must talk frankly about the evil and injustices that were going on and try to understand the mindset of those who brought them about so that future generations are spared such calamities

MAUREEN      The past is embedded in the present, which in turn is embedded in the future

MISHECK       This story is a warning. Future leaders should avoid treading the despotic and corrupt paths of the past. We have suffered and endured so much to get here – from John Chilembwe’s uprising against the British in 1915 to the present. We join Jack Mapanje in his plea to our political leaders to spare us the violence, injustices and siege mentality that characterised Banda’s regime and please give us the peace and freedom we have been crying out for these years.


About karissagall

Karissa Gall is a Canadian journalist.

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