Orton Chirwa

2006
oil on canvas
40" x 30"
Unsold
3,000 (unframed)
Orton Chirwa

MALAWI: In 1958, Orton Chirwa was amongst the high-ranking members of the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) to choose Hastings Banda as its leader. It was a decision that would eventually cost him his freedom, and ultimately, his life. Upon gaining its independence in 1964, Malawi saw Banda become the country's first ruler, though not in the democratic manner envisioned by the MCP. Banda, who quickly declared himself president for life, ruled in a dictatorial style wrought with oppression and abuse. Like many other former MCP members who opposed Banda's regime, Chirwa quickly resigned from his appointed position as Attorney General and Minister of Justice and left the country. In Tanzania, Orton Chirwa founded the Malawi Freedom Movement, while his wife Vera attended law school in London. The couple lived in exile for over a decade until abducted from Zambia by Banda's security forces in 1981 and incarcerated in Malawi. Following a trial in which they were allowed neither defense lawyers nor witnesses, both Orton and Vera Chirwa were convicted of treason and sentenced to life imprisonment. Held under harsh conditions that included torture and mistreatment, the couple saw each other only once during their confinement until Orton Chirwa died in prison in 1992. Subsequent pressure from domestic groups and the international community brought about the release of Vera Chirwa in 1993. Though Banda was replaced in a 1994 election, government oppression has not ceased in Malawi, where state-sponsored violence, ethnic intolerance, and suppression of free speech still persist. Vera Chirwa too persists, a leading activist for the rights of women and children, who continues her fight despite the battles lost along the way.