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“Vipers who minute our twitches”

Psychopaths That Served Banda's Malaŵian Dictatorship in Jack Mapanje's Prison Poetry

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Jack Mapanje has complained about the “orality of dictatorship” in Malaŵi that left no documentary evidence against the perpetrators of violence against Malaŵians in the thirty-year reign of President Hastings Kamuzu Banda and the Malaŵi Congress Party (MCP) in Malaŵi, 1964–94. The use of orality and secrecy means that evidence of violence against Banda and the MCP's opponents and critics, including extra-judicial killings, detention without trial and torture, and forced exile, exists only in oral forms, leaving no concrete evidence of culpability against individuals let alone explanations of what happened to many victims. This is complicated by the diffuse nature of the absolute political power wielded by Banda and the MCP, which was abused by many of his minions. However, while Mapanje bemoans the lack of tangible evidence for criminal charges against psychos that served Banda and the MCP, he exploits the same orality in his prison poetry in his search for answers and interrogates some of his tormentors for his nearly three and half years of detention without trial in Malaŵi. This article argues that, in the context of a dictatorship that relies heavily on orality, Mapanje's recourse to the same orality is probably the only viable means in the quest for answers and is an effort to hold psychos accountable for atrocities, even if poetically projected.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: August 1, 2011


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