The Malawi Congress Party CardJehovah's Witnesses had been in Malawi peacefully since the early years of the 20th century. But on January 1, 1964 and throughout most of the 70's, our brothers and sisters in Malawi endured rapes, beatings, burning hundreds of Witness houses, fields, food stores and Kingdom Halls, shaving with broken bottles, being burned alive and other medieval tortures and mutilations by a couple of Malawi Congress Party youth brigades known as the Malawi Young Pioneers and League of Malawi Youth League, under the instigation by party officials, for their not getting political party cards.
A Malawi Congress political party card is a type of voter's registration card that identifies the person as a supporter of a particular political party. Those cards in Malawi do not typically have an opportunity to mark "independent", but are registered to specific parties or candidates.
Here is the translated text of the Malawai Congress Party card (Click for full-size version):
Note the highlighted text. Each of those portions directly violates Bible principles. 1) It is a political party card. (John 15:19, 20; James 4:4) 2) You are being asked, not to give what is due to the government, but to "contribute" without choice to that political party. (Mark 12:13-17) 3) In the first Statement of Principles, you are being asked to pledge your loyalty and obedience to the party, thus require such in any situation in which they make a request and that would remain in force even if a new party were to arise and overthrow the government or compete with the party. (Acts 5:29) 4) 2.a is asking that you will go to war to maintain the party's hold on the country. (John 18:36; 2 Corinthians 10:3-6) 5) 2.c is asking you to cooperate, without objection, to give money to the party if asked, care for party soldiers in war, and assist in construction of any facilities or other projects they ask you to. (Exodus 23:1-3; Proverbs 1:10-19; 1 Corinthians 15:33) In effect, the card is not only a conscription into the military, but a license to demand anything of you and expect your full cooperation without protest. By the political party's forcing people to take the card, the word "contribution" is a lie and demonstrates the government controlled by the party to be a dictatorship.
Our opposers make it sound like there were no other political parties in the country, but such is a lie. The Malawi Congress Party won its seat in government by vote in the presence of competing parties. When they came into power, they banned all other parties, thus rejecting democracy and adopting an authoritarian dictatorship. In fact, the president you see in the above image declared himself "president-for-life". Later, the country returned to a multi-party democracy in 1993.
This is not a question of whether his rule was successful and helped the country. It is a matter of freedom of speech and practice of religion free from violent persecution and death. Dictatorships are not traditionally known for their religious tolerance, which is evident in their raping and slaughtering Jehovah's people.
The Second WaveIn 1967, after violence began a resurgence, (This was when the rapes began,) Malcolm Vigo, the branch overseer in Malawi, assured political officials that the Society does not tell people not to buy political party cards, emphasizing that each person must make his own decision on the matter. Later that year, Jehovah's Witnesses were officially banned by the Malawi Congress with the full support of President Dr. Banda, under the pretext that we endanger "the stability of peace and calm which is essential for the smooth running of our State." As a result, Jehovah's Witness missionaries were forcefully expelled from Malawi and persecution intensified for the 405 congregations in the country.
However, in 1968, under political pressure by other nations and a massive influx of mail protesting the persecutions, Dr. Banda declared a halt to the persecutions involving party membership cards, though the ban was not lifted. Persecutions began to subside.
The Third WaveLater, in 1972, the Malawi Congress passed more resolutions against Jehovah's Witnesses, even banning them from employment, chased out of their homes wherever they were in the country. As a result, hundreds died, (This was the period of the worst persecution,) When the principal of Banda College, Theodore Pinney, protested the atrocities directly to Dr. Banda, he was deported.
This intense persecution resulted in a mass exodus of 21,000 displaced Jehovah's Witnesses to Zambia to the west. However, as a result of unsanitary condition, 350 men, women and children died. Zambia proved unwilling to help the witnesses. However, brothers from around Africa, hearing of their plight, shipped in supplies in great quantities to improve conditions. Ultimately they were expelled from Zambia by the end of the year. Witnesses that returned to Malawi that December returned to further brutal beatings. Refugee camps were then set up along the southwest border near Mlangeni and in Carico, Mulanje on the north-eastern border; both are along the Mozambique border on either side of malawi.
In 1975, Mozambique won its independence from Portugal and the new leaders attacked the Witnesses with the same brutality and expelled them from the country for their political neutrality, forced the Witnesses in the Mlangeni camp to pass through Malawi to get to the refugee camps. However, the Mulanje camp was later attacked by guerilla soldiers. Enclosed between Zambia, Mozambique and Malawi, unable to escape, our brothers there were enclaved between three countries that had banned them, where they stayed along the road that represented the border so that if one attempted to attack them on one side, they would simply cross the road into the other country.
Additionally, Mozambique began rounding up congregations of Witnesses and forcing them into prisons and detention camps reminiscent of Nazi concentration camps, from which young children were taken and given to non-Witness relatives by their jailers. By the end of that year, some 5,000 men and women were being detained, though their good spirits remained in tact despite the abuses and harassment by the guards. Eventually the conditions relaxed and the guards began to treat them respectfully on account of the Witnesses non-violence.
The persecution in general also wore down by 1979. Most of the prisoners had been released by that time. Occasional jail time was still meted out from time to time. Gradually, the attacks decreased and became more sporadic.
A Fourth Wave?
In 1992, patriotism in Malawi arose once again, but under strong political pressure by other countries to clear up the country's human rights record, Dr. Banda acceded to the pressure and demanded the country stop persecuting Jehovah's Witnesses, claiming that he had never ordered their persecution to begin with. Even if that were so, he did nothing to stop it and showed his support of the persecution and the ban on multiple occasions. The following year, a military party was allowed and elections were called, in which Dr. Banda was defeated by popular vote. As a result, the 26 year ban was finally lifted and Jehovah's Witnesses have not been harassed since.
Support of Persecutions by Our OpposersEssentially advocating for the atrocities meted out by the Malawi Congress, our opposers on the internet say that all we had to do was accept the party cards and no one would have to undergo such brutal treatment. Then they use a circumstance in Mexico as proof that we use such things as Malawi to get attention, while in other places we roll over so that our preaching won't be impeded. But this is a lie based upon a false comparison.
The Mexican Cartilla CardThe Mexican Cartilla (meaning "Primer") card is not a "political party card" at all, as was the case of the brothers in Malawi. The Cartilla card, that our brothers considered bribing the Mexican officials for, merely allowed the brothers to avoid mandatory military service to avoid jail for dodging, as people normally get one by having completed a period of military service. Following is the Mexican Cartilla card (Click for full-size version):
As you can see, it is nothing more than an I.D. that makes no assertions about loyalty to political parties or the government. The reason we did not reject this card is because it is not political and does not obligate the holder to take part in military service at all times nor to take part in unchristian activities. It merely allows one to postpone persecution. It is an I.D. card and nothing more.
Bribery Lauded?As to the matter of the claim of brothers bribing public officials in Mexico, that was a matter discussed in a letter from the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania to the Mexico Branch Committee, dated June 2nd, 1960. Here is the relevant text of that letter:
“As to those who are relieved of military training by a money transaction with the officials who are involved therewith, this is on par with what is done in other Latin American countries where brothers have paid for their relief through some military official in order to retain their freedom for theocratic activities. If members of the military establishment are willing to accept such an arrangement upon the payment of a fee then that is the responsibility of these representatives of the national organisation. In such a case the money paid does not go to the military establishment, but is appropriated by the individual who undertakes the arrangement. If the consciences of certain brothers allow them to enter into such an arrangement for their continued freedom we have no objection. Of course, if they would get into any difficulties over their course of action then they would have to shoulder such difficulties themselves, and we could not offer them any assistance. But if the arrangement is current down there and is recognized by the inspectors who do not make any inquiries into the veracity of the matter then the matter can be passed by for the accruing advantages. Should a military emergency arise and confront these brothers with their marching card it would oblige them to make a decision by which they could not extricate themselves by a money payment and their mettle would be tested and they would have to demonstrate outright where they stand and prove that they are in favor of Christian neutrality in a determined test." (Emphasis mine.)Note that it says that a bribe is a matter of conscience on the part of those involved, but was allowable as long as the money did not go to the military, with one caveat: if they got in trouble for such a transaction, the organization would not come to their rescue. It goes on to state that there could be serious consequences for their actions; rejecting a military summons could be seen as desertion, which is punishable by death. Thus, they have to weigh the advantages over the consequences. However, their being in the practice of cowardice, they're not likely to stand against the order or else will make a run for the border. Thus, we have never printed an article relating a positive experience with bribery, nor lauding its usage, which is why our opposers have to rely upon this letter.
Throughout our publications, bribery is shown as a disgraceful practice, the rejection of which is lauded. (1 Samuel 12:3; Daniel 5:17) In fact, the Bible only ever relates bribes in a bad light, turning good men bad and letting bad men get declared righteous. Some people even try to bribe God with favors in exchange for doing his will. (Psalm 50:9-12) The Bible shows bribery to be an act of faithlessness and cowardice. For example, King Asa of Israel and King Ahab of Judah bribed the kings of Syria and Assyria respectively for military assistance. (1Ki 15:18, 19; 2Ki 16:8)
However, our publications do not ever declare bribery to be a disfellowshipping offense unless the person receives a bribe or uses it to pervert justice. Cowardice, from which bribery stems, though shown to be deserving of eternal destruction, (Revelation 21:8) is not an unclean habit in itself, nor is it something that can be clearly labeled, and is therefore not a grounds for disfellowshipping, unless it leads to gross sins, such as lies, killing or sexual immorality. Otherwise, a person's cowardice is between them and Jehovah. But note that the letter all but called the brothers cowards by highlighting that though they are seeking a way out now, later, "their mettle would be tested and they would have to demonstrate outright where they stand". In other words, you are not holding fast your principles now, but later you may have no choice but to make a stand and the consequences may be far greater.
What do you think? Are these matters related? Or is it just apostate smoke designed to mislead and cause people to draw a wrong conclusion? Is it right for our opposers to exploit the tragedy in Malawi for this purpose?