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The First Seventy Years: 47 - African Politics

Eric Biddulph outlines the tangled nature of African politics at the time of his working in Malawi some decades ago.

To read earlier chapters of Eric's autobiography please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/the_first_seventy_years/

The President pursued an ambivalent foreign policy. It was absolutely forbidden to utter a single criticism of South Africa. Conversely, it was permissible to openly criticise Rhodesia although it was practising apartheid in all but name. The contradiction came about because of the substantial foreign aid being provided by South Africa particularly in respect of the building of the new capital Lilongwe, in the Central Region including the construction of an airport. I held the view that the airport would be used by the South African Air Force to launch bombing raids on Tanzania if armed conflict broke out.

As a recipient of considerable aid from the UK, Banda was virtually obliged to speak out in condemnatory tone about Rhodesia's illegal declaration of independence.

Ambivalence was also illustrated in his dealings with Mozambique. FRELIMO, the liberation movement seeking to end Portuguese colonialism in the country was permitted to move its guerrilla fighters across Malawi from the region lying to the east of Mozambique to the region to the west provided they were not carrying any weapons. The Portuguese controlled Malawi's main access to the sea. It was essential for Banda to remain on good terms. Conversely, he perpetually ridiculed President Nyerere of Tanzania and President Kaunda of Zambia for what he perceived to be their untenable position over the three racist nations in the region. "You cannot do anything about it" was his favourite taunt. "Stop pretending you can change anything".

During my first two years of teaching a majority of my students were the product of Livingstonia Mission School situated in the Northern Region which only contained 20% of the country's population. Rumour had it that the President intended to restrict entry from this secondary school. The Southern and Central Regions were to send more students on to Polytechnic courses even if their entry qualifications were inferior to those of students from the Northern Region. It was however, a policy with which I broadly agreed. At the same time John Barraclough, my head of department since my arrival


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