Aims and objectives
The Nyasaland African Congress (NAC) records are very important in the history of political activity in Malawi. The records require proper preservation because their availability and accessibility will enable Malawians to understand the emergence of Malawian political activity, how nationalist movements developed, who were the key players and the strategies employed as well as provide the nationalist leaders biographies. These records are also important for scholarship because they provide primary source of information for the nationalist movement since the records are directly derived from the political activists themselves and may reveal aspects hitherto unknown in the country’s history. The records were generated from the early 1900’s to the 1960’s and contain crucial information about early African political activity and organisation in the colonial era, and are essential to the history and development of the country because this was a period in Malawi’s history when only a few individuals were literate through the western education system. The NAC records are historically and literally significant as they demonstrate level of literacy and masterly of the English language, which the early freedom fighters acquired and extent of their political development and grasp of socioeconomic issues as reflected in the records. If the material is not rescued and preserved the legacy of the country’s political history will be lost.
Malawi became a British protectorate in 1891 and in the early period of colonial rule not much is known about African political activity. African political activity emerged in the second decade of the twentieth century. When political activity started during this period it was mainly spearheaded by some educated Africans who were not satisfied with the treatment of Africans under the colonial rule. These individuals had either been trained by missionaries in the country or had opportunity to receive education from outside the country. A good example of the early activists against colonial rule was John Chilembwe who led a revolt in 1915 against colonial white farmers who mistreated Africans on their farms. Apart from the militancy organised by radical individuals like Chilembwe, other educated Africans from 1912 formed Native Associations that would speak for African interests to the colonial government. The native associations were conservative pressure groups lobbying for the interests of ordinary Malawians in the colonial situation. At that level they did not aim for self-government or independence but rather wanted the colonial government to improve the welfare of Africans in the colonial state. The first native association to be established was the North Nyasa native association which was formed in 1912. This was followed by formation of similar groups in other areas such as the West Nyasa native association in 1914, the Mombera native association in 1920, the southern province native association in 1923, the central province native association in 1927 and the Chiradzulu district association in 1929. These associations tried to advance the social, economic and political interests of the indigenous population. They also championed collaboration between Malawians of all ethnicities and religions in fighting for general improvement in the welfare of the natives.
The native associations were dominated by educated Africans who were working in the colonial civil service. In 1944 the various native associations merged to form the Nyasaland African Congress (NAC) thereby establishing the first political party in the history of Malawi. This merge was triggered by desire of the Africans to have a unified voice when dealing with the colonial government. The elite educated Africans were not only lobbying for their interests but attempted from an early stage to relate their concerns to the grievances experienced by other Africans. The NAC initially set out to simply fight for better conditions for Africans within the colonial political and economic framework. This early resolve by the NAC was in keeping with the principles of the native associations that emphasised dialogue and non-violent approach in dealing with the colonial government. However this initial political stand of the NAC changed in the early 1950’s when the colonial administration imposed a new constitutional order in which Nyasaland was to be part of a federation with Southern and Pilot Oct 2015 Northern Rhodesia. The NAC became more radical in its confrontation with the colonial administration. The focus of the nationalists now changed towards fighting for independence and self-rule for Africans. The political agitation by NAC continued up to March 1959 when the colonial government declared a state of emergency and NAC was effectively banned from operating in the protectorate. Most of the nationalist leaders were imprisoned and those that remained reconstituted the NAC to form the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) in September 1959. MCP actually took over all the functions and activities of the banned NAC and was often regarded as NAC by another name. It is for this reason that the project will also extend to look at the MCP records from 1959 to 1964. It is very essential to undertake this project because the records may now be endangered due to the fact that most of these records are still kept in MCP buildings and are not being properly maintained now that the Party has been out of power since 1994. Most of the party buildings have been rented out to businesses so that the party can generate income as a result the records are just dumped in store rooms and other places without due consideration and care. Due to financial challenges the party also does not have staff to take care of these records. Some material held in private homes of surviving freedom fighters is endangered due to poor storage conditions prevailing in those homes and death of individual freedom fighters with no one interested in further preservation of the deceased freedom fighters’ records. It is difficult at this stage to estimate how much material is there and this is part of the reason why the project will undertake this survey to establish the extent or volume of the material.
The pilot project surveyed Nyasaland African Congress (NAC) records in selected districts in Malawi in order to assess the state of records, their storage conditions, determine the extent as well as the preservation needs. The project created an inventory of the records and digitised a small selection of the identified records including minutes of meetings of the NAC; the NAC constitution; editorial comments of Malawi News pertaining to the Malawi Congress Party (MCP - successor organisation to NAC); photographs of the late Hon. Aleke Banda, a prominent nationalist and politician.
The records copied by this project have been catalogued as:
- EAP942/1 Preserving Nyasaland African Historical Records [1943-1966]
The catalogue is available here