Attati: Malawi’s unsung hero and freedom fighter whose fingers were blown off by a letter bomb

Hastings Kamuzu Banda declared himself president for life in Nyasaland (now Malawi), imprisoned his opponents and lived a flamboyant life while his people remained in poverty. But the tyrant had another persona – he was the quiet, kind doctor who worked in Britain during World War II and led Malawi to independence. How he became a dictator right after assuming power in Malawi and his contradictory approach to matters surprised many people.

He led an autocratic one-party rule, gaining firm control over all aspects of the government besides jailing his opponents. A pro-western who enjoyed Western support, Banda strongly opposed Communism, saying it had failed many nations. He banned any literature advocating Communism.

One man challenged his ideals. Dr. Attati Mpakati, described by many as Malawi’s unsung hero, fought against the one-party dictatorship of Banda. He was the leader of the Socialist League of Malawi (LESOMA), which was an opposition movement against the rule of Banda. History says LESOMA had strong links with the communist regimes including Cuba and The Soviet Union Socialist Republics (USSR).

And thanks to Mpakati’s Communist ideologies, he was labeled an “enemy of the state” and seen as a threat to the government. He was assassinated in cold blood but not before having his two fingers blown off by a letter bomb, an attack he miraculously survived.

A native of Masikini Village in the Southern Region of Malawi, Mpakati was born in the 1930s and was the second child of 14 children. Some say Maxwell was his first name but he picked the name Attati later in life because he wanted to have an African name instead of the colonial name, Maxwell. Attati had his primary school education at Nguludi Catholic School before becoming one of the members of the militant anti-colonial Nyasaland National Congress.

It was while being schooled in Russian and Swedish universities that Mpakati qualified as an Economist and got attracted to communist ideologies of governance, according to a report by Malawi Broadcasting Corporation. While his government condemned communism, Mpakati believed that the system, combined with democracy, was the best for his country. Mpakati knew how risky it was to take that stance in Malawi, especially with the country being a former colony of Britain.

Still, Mpakati, bent on bringing social justice and equality to his country and ultimately putting an end to the one-party rule of Banda, formed the Socialist League of Malawi (LESOMA). For this, he was targeted by the Banda-led government, which accused him of being a rebel who was being sponsored by communists to take over the government.

Mpakati was at some point detained, after which he left Malawi in 1961, traveling in southern Africa often undercover and becoming one of the most hated exiled politicians. In 1979, Mpakati was almost killed by a parcel bomb in Maputo in Mozambique. The parcel bomb exploded upon opening it after it was given to him. It is alleged that the parcel was sent by agents of Banda. Damaging his fingers, Mkapati, alongside his wife and children, flew to London for medical treatment. He then made attempts to fly to East Berlin to meet with the exiled LESOMA members but failed.

On March 23, 1983, the man many called a freedom fighter was assassinated in Harare, Zimbabwe, by alleged Banda agents, according to the report by Malawi Broadcasting Corporation. Before his death, Mpakati believed that the end was near for the Banda regime. He reportedly wrote this open letter to Banda after his fingers were blown off:

“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.”

Indeed, following extensive protests against his pro-Western policies and style of leadership as well as the withdrawal of Western financial aid, Banda was forced to legalize other political parties in 1993. In the country’s first multiparty presidential elections held in 1994, he was voted out of office, and in 1996 he relinquished the leadership of the Malawi Congress Party.

Mildred Europa Taylor

Mildred Europa Taylor is a writer and content creator. She loves writing about health and women's issues in Africa and the African diaspora.

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