Hastings Banda stands accused of murder. But the man who once ran one of Africa's most repressive regimes prefers to discuss Latin
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The Independent Culture
I HAD SEEN this same room in the pages of the Malawi Daily News, in the days when it was the only newspaper permitted in the country. Photographs showed a wood-panelled room, furnished with a long table spread with a leopard skin. They had not shown the stuffed lion that stood to one side of the door, preserved in an attitude of eternal optimism, a sniffing-the-dawn expression frozen on its face; nor had they shown the many photographs on the walls of a small African man in the company of Kenyatta, Kennedy and other world leaders. Now the same small man sat before me in a gilt chair at the head of the table. This was Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda, formerly the Life President of Malawi, which he ruled for 30 years, and the ngwazi or "saviour" of the people he had led to independence from Britain in 1963. He had been out of office for a year, deposed by Malawi's first multi-party elections.

With us in the room were Cecilia "Mama" Kadzamira, Banda's helpmate, whose official title as the nation's "Hostess" belied the fact that she had been its most powerful woman; and Gustav Kaliwo, a lawyer who, in Mama's phraseology, was "helping His Excellency with his case". The case dated back to the murder of four government officials 12 years before, with which Mama and four other alleged co-conspirators had been charged, as well as Banda. In deference to his extreme age (perhaps as much as 96) and uncertain mental health (he had had brain surgery in 1993), he had been placed under house arrest rather than imprisoned, and Mama, his companion for many years, had been allowed to remain at his side.

Only a week before we met, a panel of doctors approved by both the prosecution and the defence had determined that Banda was mentally unfit to stand trial and would therefore be tried in absentia. The diagnosis was hypertension and some minor symptoms of Parkinson's disease, but his most obvious affliction was an acute loss of short-term memory. He could not, it seemed, remember the hour or the day or the year before, though he was still capable of lucid, even elegant, conversation along carefully selected lines. My meeting with Banda had been arranged by his lawyer, who felt that discussion of certain interests dear to his heart would be stimulating and good for his morale; and this was how it came to be that in the early evening of 7 June 1995, the former dictator and I were discussing the classics.

WE had already compared Latin to Chichewa, the language of Malawi, and had agreed that Pompey was less interesting than Caesar, and Banda was now reciting from the latter's Gallic Wars. "Gallia est omnis divisa in partis tris, quarum unam incolunt Belgae, aliam Aquitani..." he declaimed with gusto, demonstrating that short-term memory doesn't count for everything. His Excellency had also imparted the surprising information that as a young man it had been his dream to become a professor of Classics. His voice, with its delicately inflected English, was familiar to me from the radio broadcasts I used to hear when I lived in Malawi in the early Eighties. But the face from those years - the portraits that hung in every office, the likeness that graced calendars, coins and stamps - had changed. Its contours were still much the same, but the formidable, potentially dangerous animus that once informed them had vanished, and I faced a little copper-skinned man with mild brown eyes. He wore his usual dark-grey three- piece suit, brightened on this occasion by a red silk tie and pocket handkerchief, and it was difficult to tell how heavily His Excellency's "case" weighed on him. His skin was smooth and remarkably unlined - an old age attained comfortably indoors, not in harsh fields or smoky villages. Yet the years had not left him unscathed. A conspicuous dent on his left temple was the relic of his surgery the year before, and he had almost entirely lost his hearing. To compensate for this deafness, he was wearing a set of large headphones that were wired to a microphone which had been given to me. When I spoke, it was as if I were speaking directly into his brain.

Following his conversational thread, I asked Banda if he regretted the fact that as a young man he had allowed himself to be talked into becoming a medical doctor instead of a classicist. Looking at me for a moment in apologetic incomprehension, he turned to Mama: the panel of doctors who had examined him the week before had noted that Banda's hearing was more attuned to female voices than to male, and above all to the voice of Mama Kadzamira. Now, when my own voice eluded him, Mama discreetly took the microphone from me so as to interpret.

"Having failed to be a professor..." she began in her clear voice.

"Hmm?" Banda interrupted, his expression becoming alert.

"Having failed to be a professor, do they regret..." she continued, addressing Banda, as she had throughout, with what could be termed the royal "they".

"Failed?" repeated Banda, his voice now sounding more like the radio speeches I used to hear. "Failed in what?"

"They wanted to be a professor," said Mama, regrouping. "Dr Bailey advised that they should be a doctor. So they did not become a professor. So the lady is asking if they regret..."

"No," Banda broke in, his voice relaxing. "It's all right now. It's all right. Dr Bailey advised me correctly, for there wasn't a single doctor in the country at that time." We returned to the Romans.

"The British were under Roman management," said Banda. "They definitely learnt something from them."

"And Caesar - he called the British the what?" asked Mama, mischievously. I sensed a private joke.

Banda rocked with laughter. "You tell me!" he teased. Then he exploded with: "Barbari!"

"And also 'the painted ones'," added Mama, who had not yet exhausted this theme.

"Caesar interested me very much because he was a politician and a soldier," Banda volunteered. "A politician - and tricky! Ho, ho, ho." Again he rocked with laughter. Did Mama's watchful eyes slide to mine with just a trace of unease? "He knew his way about his politics!" Banda exclaimed admiringly. "In those days, it was not easy!"

"Yes," I said. "He was a survivor."

Soon after, I was told that His Excellency was tiring, and so we all stood up to take our leave. Having been divested of his headphones by Mama's capable hands, Banda took up his stout black cane carved with African motifs and waited with the same look of obliging compliance with which he had entered the room. Three steps led through a panelled door in the wall behind the long table. At the bottom, Banda stopped and turned to me. "One more time," he said, holding out his hand.

After he had been safely escorted away, Mama returned to meet Kaliwo and me in the front reception room.

"He enjoyed himself," she said to me. "It is good that you laugh easily."

BANDA was at one time the longest-ruling dictator in Africa. Although I had mixed feelings about his regime, I had shaken his hand with real gratitude. He was unlikely ever to know it now, but it was because of a personal whim on his part that I had first come to Malawi 13 years before.

In the spring of 1982, I'd decided that I wanted to live in Africa and had set about writing job applications to nearly every English-speaking institution in the continent. My letters implied, without fraudulently stating, that I was qualified to teach English as a foreign language (which I judged my best shot at employment) and played down my background in Classics (which I judged beside the point). Half-hearted responses came from the universities of Kenya and Zambia - and a concrete offer from the University of Malawi. Improbably, the job was to establish a small department of Classics.

I arrived in December 1982, at the beginning of the rainy season. Chancellor College, the arts and science campus, was in Zomba, a town in the south of the country, which had been the capital before Banda moved the government north to Lilongwe, and which was still characterised by comfortable, colonial architecture. Low, whitewashed buildings of mud-brick with verandas spread along the narrow roads winding into the foothills of the Zomba plateau, a massif 3,000ft high that overlooked the town.

The staff of the faculty were mostly Malawian and British. Most of my students had come from Catholic secondary schools, where they had studied Latin for several years. I was 26 and had all the excitement and zeal of a missionary charged with bringing classical enlightenment to darkest Africa. I had ambitious plans for a small but bustling department which would integrate a traditional curriculum with what I thought might be Malawian interests: oral traditions (Homeric and African); the sociology of slavery; epic Roman and British imperialism; praise poetry (Pindaric and Zulu): these were some of the ideas that excited me and that I looked forward to presenting to my colleagues.

My assumption that my arrival would be greeted with reciprocal enthusiasm, however, was quickly shattered. "So you're the one who's come to make us a real university," said a fellow lecturer soon after I arrived. The sneer became typical. I was bewildered. At first I thought that, as a classicist, I was seen as representing the forces of cultural imperialism - though it was the British rather than the Malawians who seemed to resent me most.

The real cause was far less subtle. For years, no less a person than the president of Malawi himself, Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda, had been haranguing the university, the national parliament, the press and the population at large about the need to study "the classics". Only two months before I arrived, he had told his audience at the university's graduation ceremony, speaking in his capacity as the university's chancellor, that, first, no person was truly educated unless he knew Latin and Greek; and, second, an institution could not claim to be a real university unless it had a department of Classics.

That was how I came to Malawi, and that was why, 13 years later, I was allowed to see Dr Banda in his home: not because I was a writer interested in his trial, but because I was founder of the Classics department at Malawi University. Gustav Kaliwo, the lawyer who arranged our meeting, had been one of my students.

During the time I lived in Malawi, Banda was at the height of his power, the cult of his personality firmly established. The country had only one political party - his own, the Malawi Congress Party - and it controlled the only daily newspaper and only radio station. Any criticism of the regime, however implicit, could mean detention, or worse. But while his presence was felt everywhere, Banda himself remained largely invisible. One of his official houses was in Zomba, and I used to pass it on my evening walks and notice the feathery tops of bluegum trees peeping over its high brick walls, hinting at an intriguing hidden garden. A friend of mine from the university lived close to this house, and on the mornings of official "events", he would be woken early by the chatter and laughter of the President's mbumba dancers - droves of women identically dressed in clothes stamped with Banda's picture. They gathered there before being transported to the venue at, say, the stadium in Blantyre, a city 50 kilometres south. But Banda himself we never saw, and we could only assume that behind the smoked windows of the black limousine that would sometimes appear, travelling fast and silently on the main Blantyre-Lilongwe road, sat the Life President and saviour of the nation himself.

Banda's biography recorded a remarkable life. He was born, according to the best guess, in 1898, in a small village near Kasungu, in what was then central Nyasaland (as Malawi was known when it was a British colony). At the age of seven, he went to a missionary school, where he was baptised into the Church of Scotland and took the name of a Scottish missionary, John Hastings. Aged 16, he set out alone and barefoot on a journey to South Africa in search of higher education, which he found, eventually, in night schools run by the Methodist church in Johannesburg. He financed his ambition with hard work, as a miner and in other menial jobs, and lived cheaply in shanty towns. In 1922, he became a member of a black separatist church, the African Methodists, and two years later won a scholarship to the church's college in the United States, Wilberforce Academy in Ohio. Many years of study followed - with funds often provided by white Americans who were impressed by his devotion and ambition - and Banda gradually accumulated degrees: a BA in philosophy from the University of Chicago, a doctorate in medicine from Meharry Medical College, Tennes- see, and, after he migrated to Britain in the Thirties, further medical qualifications from the Universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow. For 17 years, he worked in Britain as a general practitioner, toting his doctor's bag and stethoscope round the poorer parts of Liverpool and Tyneside before settling down to a prosperous practice in London. During that time, he was involved in serious anti-colonial politics. He became the Nyasaland National Congress Party's man in London, a liaison between the party and the British Colonial Office, which was planning to bring together its three central African colonies - Nyasaland and Northern and Southern Rhodesia - in a federation. The federation was created in 1953 and made the British even more unpopular. The Nyasaland Congress invited Banda to return home and serve the cause as party president. He arrived on 6 July 1958, to a tumultuous welcome.

Banda was then 60 years old and had spent most of the past 30 years of his life in Britain and the United States. From the moment of his return, he made all his public speeches in English, not Chichewa, with interpreters relaying his remarks to the crowd. He wore a Homburg, a hat he'd taken to wearing as a doctor, and his shirts and suits were made in London; Africa was present in his person only in the fly whisk he invariably carried.

He was elected prime minister in 1963 and, after Nyasaland became the independent rep-ublic of Malawi, he moved quickly to consolidate his power. He appointed cronies to his cabinet. Political rivals drifted, or were driven, into exile. In 1971, he was made president for life.

LIFE in Banda's Malawi, it seemed to me, was modelled on life in the Ideal State outlined by Plato in The Republic. Banda, naturally, was the Philosopher King. He made the decisions and he was wise (two of his favourite pejoratives, often deployed in speeches, were "childish" and "ignorant"). The role of Plato's Guardians, the men who protected the state from internal and external enemies, was fulfilled by the despised Young Pioneers, a paramilitary group that roamed the villages and markets, sniffing out any hint of disloyalty. Plato's lowly "bronze class", the working population, was represented by Malawi's subsistence farmers whose labour accounted for more than 90 per cent of the economy. Like Plato, Banda believed that this category should not know more than they needed to; education in Banda's Malawi never became free and universal, with the result that its literacy rate was almost half that of neighbouring countries. And then there was the matter of poetry. Plato said: "We must compel ... our poets, on pain of expulsion, to make their poetry the express image of noble character." Banda followed his advice, encouraging poets to adapt traditional songs to "morally uplifting themes" and expelling or imprisoning any poet who seemed truculent or disobedient.

Innovation was distrusted - another Platonic trait - and strict censorship reflected Banda's Victorian values. Women were not allowed to show their knees or wear trousers, and censors screened imported publications for indecency. Plates in fashion magazines and photographs in the National Geographic were often inked over with crudely drawn blouses and frilly skirts. My mail was routinely opened, and I became accustomed to my letters arriving in clumsily re-glued envelopes. Once, a letter I received from abroad contained a page from a letter I'd posted to someone else the week before.

Banda's Republic divided opinion, privately in Malawi and publicly abroad. The extreme view said that his was the most oppressive regime in Africa, ignoring the spectacular excesses of Bokassa's Central African Empire, Mengistu's Ethiopia and Idi Amin's Uganda. A more sympathetic view held that he had to be given credit for running a stable and well-ordered country - a rarity in Africa. The most sympathetic view said that Banda himself was not responsible for his government's oppressive methods; that he was old (in his eighties even then) and not "all there" (there were rumours of expensive monkey-gland remedies purchased in Switzerland), and that the power behind his throne was John Tembo, Mama Kadzimira's uncle and the most likely candidate to succeed Banda as president.

There is no doubt that the people around Banda, including Tembo, routinely conspired to give him a false picture of the country he ruled. For example, every year Banda paid a visit to the Zomba General Hospital. Normally, the hospital was so ill-equipped and overcrowded that patients lay two to a cot, head-to-toe like sardines. I once visited a friend who was recovering from a motorcycle accident and found him sharing a pillow with the swollen, gangrenous legs of his cot-mate, who was adrift in a reverie of pain. Sticking my head around the corner of the maternity ward, I saw women lying on the floor beneath the beds, as well as in them. But when a visit from Banda was imminent, the hospital was newly whitewashed, and the wards half-emptied. What he saw was a neat line of cots each tidily occupied by a single patient, while surplus patients lay heaped together in a central courtyard out of view.

My own life in Malawi was not oppressive. As a foreigner, the worst I could fear was deportation, and I had my work to occupy me. I taught Latin, tutored a theology student in Greek and lectured my students on "classical civilisation". I had a four-year degree programme to develop, a library and slide collection to build, textbooks to buy. Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world, and money that had been pledged did not often materialise. But where else in the world would I have been asked to establish a brand new Classics department?

The house I lived in had a garden filled with frangipani, grapefruit and avocado trees. A graceful jacaranda grew at one end of the veranda, while the other end was screened with bougainvillaea. On my daily walk to Chancellor College, a mile down the road, I kept the long wall of the Zomba plateau to my left. On sunny days, it would stand out in hard, deep- blue relief. On rainy days, a thick mist seemed to billow from its base, rolling and steaming over the foothills. When darkness came, I could sit on my veranda and watch the Southern Cross rise above the tops of my pawpaw trees. Even while I was living there, I knew the memory of these things would always haunt me - and I was right.

I RETURNED to Malawi 10 years almost to the week after I left. It was the dry season, and in Zomba the sky was dull with a chiperoni mist, but when it cleared, and the grave, blunt summit of the plateau appeared, I was almost disconcerted to find myself staring at a scene so exactly as I had remembered it. The town was, if anything, greener and lusher than before, and at Chancellor College, luxuriant trees and bushes of white poinsettia filled the campus which a dozen years previously was still being landscaped. Some of the female students and staff, I noticed, now wore trousers - Banda's anti-trouser legislation had been rescinded in 1993 - but the greatest change had been wrought by Aids. Several old colleagues and droves of students had died.

I took my favourite walk across the golf-course of the Zomba Gymkhana Club. Some distance beyond, women still bathed and washed their clothes in the river, unperturbed by the proximity of the golfers. Up the road, beyond the club grounds and tennis courts, I eventually passed the Zomba State House, still a walled, secret garden in the heart of the town. Now the new president, Bakili Muluzi, lived there - or rather, one of his two wives did. Banda had been proud to be an Elder of the Church of Scotland; the new president was a Muslim. Under pressure from the Western countries that gave Malawi aid - and especially from the United States - the Banda regime had agreed to hold a referendum in which people would vote for or against the holding of multi-party elections. In 1993, the people voted for them, and in 1994 the United Democratic Front, led by Muluzi, had taken power. A free press now flourished, and the Malawi Young Pioneers had been disbanded and disarmed. Banda was said to have taken his defeat, the end of his republic, philosophically.

At the High Court in Blantyre, the preliminary trial of Banda and his four co-defendants was winding down, and I was able to attend a session. Lawyers, bewigged and robed in the English fashion, bowed before the judge; indeed, the leader of the defence team, Clive Stanbrook, was an English QC. Of the four prisoners in the dock - who did not, of course, include Banda himself - the most recognisable was John Tembo, a little waspish- looking man with a large head, who sat coiled and unblinking.

Their trial stemmed from a commission of inquiry, conducted in 1994, into the deaths of four members of parliament, including three cabinet ministers, whose bodies were found in a car that was lodged in a ravine at Mwanza near Blantyre on the morning of 19 May 1983. The government maintained that the men had been fleeing from Malawi to Zimbabwe, and that their deaths had been caused by a "road accident'', but few people ever believed that. On the Zomba campus in 1983, we knew, as did the rest of the country, that this was political murder. Rumours said that the car had been riddled with bullets, or blow-torched, or that the bodies had been bludgeoned. It was this last that turned out, 11 years later, to be the truth.

One hundred and sixty-two witnesses testified before the commission of inquiry, and from their words a remarkably complete picture of the murders eventually emerged. The transcript of this inquiry runs to 1,066 pages, and of these none is more transfixing than those containing the testimony of Inspector Leonard Winesi Mpagaja, one of the nine surviving police witnesses who made the trip to Mwanza with the doomed men that night. The dialogue between the commission and the inspector is familiar: it is, in essence, the dialogue of Greek tragedy, the words of a Clytemnestra in answer to the ritual questions of the good citizens of the Chorus:

QUESTION: They came out [of the car] and they were blindfolded. What followed next?

ANSWER: What followed next was the killing.

Q: Using what?

A: They used hammers that are used when erecting tents.

Q: What other weapons were there? No guns were there, no pistols?

A: There were no guns there, but I remember that there was an axe. I cannot remember whether it was used.

Q: No sharp instruments?

A: No sharp instruments.

Q: How many people were assigned to one person?

A: Each group would pick one and take him aside...

Q: As an example, what did you yourself do to Mr Sangala to make him die?

A: My boys took Mr Sangala, blindfolded him and made him sit down. I was the one who had the hammer and I hit him at the back of the head where I knew, according to my police training, he would die immediately.

Q: You hit him at the back of the head?

A: Yes.

Q: Using what?

A: I used a hammer.

Q: What else? Did he just collapse?

A: He fell down.

Q: He was already sitting down?

A: He was already sitting down, so after hitting him he fell on the ground and died.

Q: Did he not cry?

A: No, he did not cry.

Q: Because his mouth was gagged?

A: He was not gagged. He was only blindfolded.

Q: Would you say the rest of these people were treated in the same way, sat down, hit at the back and died?

A: I believe the same method was used, but we were doing it at different places...

Q: What conversation went on between you and them [the victims]?

A: When we were in this vehicle, we did not talk to each other. There was no conversation.

Q: They did not ask where you were taking them to?

A: These people did not speak to us.

Q: What about at the scene? Now you are taking Mr Sangala away. He did not say anything?

A: As I said, the only thing he said was, "How are you going to blindfold me with my glasses still on?" So we told him to remove the glas-ses, and he removed them and put them on the ground, and then we told him to sit down.

Q: Were these people awake on this journey?

A: Yes, they were awake.

Q: Did they not talk to each other?

A: No, they did not talk to each other.

Q: Did they look to you to have been drugged with something? I find it strange that they travelled from here to that place without talking at all.

A: I do not know, but the way I saw them, they were depressed.

Q: Did they look to you that they knew they were going to be killed?

A: It looked as if they already knew why they were there.

For all the haunting eloquence of the commission's report, in legal terms it was inconclusive, as the hard evidence to convict either Banda or Tembo as the instigators of this crime was lacking. The widow of the former inspector-general of police testified that her husband had told her that he had received his instructions directly from Tembo, and that these instructions were later ratified by Banda himself. Under Malawian law, only hearsay evidence "against interest" of its source is admissible in court. From a legal point of view, then, the widow's testimony was ultimately unhelpful. (Such legal hairsplitting was important, if the trial was not to be a throwback to Banda's practice of throwing his enemies to the mercy of the traditional courts, presided over by local chiefs, in which hearsay evidence was admissible - a convenient recourse in those cases fuelled solely by rumour.)

The 162nd person to testify was Hastings Kamuzu Banda himself. One can only imagine what must have passed through the minds of the men and women of the commission - who had been listening now for nearly 60 days to memories of bloodshed, bereavement and anguish - when, in response to every question he was asked, the aged former Life President , in all apparent sincerity, could only reply: "I'm afraid, because it is such a long time ago, I have no information."

HOW MUCH DID Banda know? How much had he ever known? "I tell my friends that Banda was like Tiberius," said the urbane Eric Ninganga, another former student of mine and now a prosperous tax official, over a drink at the Mount Soche Hotel in Blantyre. "Really he is. He withdrew, like Tiberius did to Capri, and left the running of his empire to his minions."

According to those close to him, Banda had begun to withdraw as long ago as 1974, paving the way for Tembo. Banda's critics, however, remain unmoved by this interpretation; a man who had declared himself Life President should, in their view, be held responsible for his government's actions right to the bitter end.

But was Banda even aware that the bitter end was drawing near? I watched a video of the Kamuzu Day ceremony of 1993 - the last year in which the nation celebrated its founder's birthday with all the pomp that he had made traditional. There he was, an old man, indom-itable in a top hat and tails, inspecting his army to the accompaniment of schoolchildren singing, "Kamuzu, you are number one." By this date, the people had voted in favour of multi-party elections; the writing for Banda was on the wall. So what did he choose to tell this last great audience?

Speaking as always in English, with an interpreter, he took as his subject Malawi's army. Banda praised the army and then reminded the crowd that his army had learned from the British:

"And the British themselves..." said Banda.

"Ndi Ingelezi..." said the interpreter.

"...learnt from the Romans," and we were back on familiar territory.

Some people believed that if Banda had troubled to designate a successor - had, in the manner of the Roman emperors, adopted his Caes-ar - he might just have won the general election. In fact, Banda had indirectly addressed the issue of succession by founding the Kamuzu Academy - a much ridiculed elite secondary school, often dubbed "the Eton of Africa". From comments he made over the years, it is clear that Banda envisaged that his Academy would groom future leaders of the country - rather as Plato had founded his more famous academy for the education of statesmen. Kamuzu Academy was so specifically the result of Banda's whim that I was curious to see how it had weathered the political change since he lost power. The school lies in the Central Region, the flattest and least attractive part of Malawi, close to where Banda was born. I drove across a sun-beaten plain past dispirited villages. When it grew dark, there was not a glimmer of light in any direction, no sign of habitation until at last I hit the silky belt of tarmac that led up to the school's wrought- iron gates.

My hosts were the de Kuypers, a couple of Belgian classicists whose contracts had just been terminated and who, together with 24 of the Academy's 43 staff, were preparing to return to Europe. Their contracts stated that the Academy would pay for their return, but the Academy's funds had run out, and it looked as though they would have to ship out their possessions at their own expense. Dr de Kuyper pointed to a cabinet full of glassware. "We were told to bring plenty of china and glass and linen," he said. "We were told to bring evening dress and formal clothing, because there would be so much entertaining. Well, it was difficult - you couldn't just ask people to dinner, because you never knew who was speaking to whom, which people would fight each other." The Academy staff was predominantly British - Banda had said that no Malawian was fit to teach there - and had exhibited their nation's penchant for recreational violence, some- thing that it had perhaps inherited from the Romans. Since all social occasions ended in fights, the de Kuypers had ceased entertaining. (Years before, I had ended my visit to the Academy with the conviction that there were only two sane motives for wanting to teach there: incorrigible idealism, or the furtive determination to write a book in the style of White Mischief. I had met three members of the school's Classics department: a middle- aged man who implied that Africans were mentally unfit to study "the classics"; an earnest young man who preached the benefits of Latin and Christianity with equal enthusiasm, and who had posters of leather-clad bikers on his walls; and a man whose posture of world weariness made it difficult to guess his age, but who later shocked his colleagues by taking the young male gardener as his lover.)

According to the de Kuypers, the Academy's future looked bleak. Their last pay cheques were only half what they should have been. The cafeteria, which had once made a point of serving classic British cooking such as sausages and mashed potato, was now serving rice and nsmima, or mealy- meal. Local markets and tradesmen would do business with the school only for cash.

I woke the next morning to the sound of bells chiming from the steeple of the school chapel. On the campus, the lawns and landscaped gardens were as immaculate as they had been 10 years before, the houses for the staff still as smart; the place still looked like an American suburb. On my previous visit, the students had tended to behave with bewildered deference or smug arrogance when they came across a European sightseer. Now, they showed a sullen lack of interest. I sensed that few of them could these days be duped by the promised benefits of superior European culture.

From its inception, the Academy had been touted as Banda's personal gift to the nation. Other African leaders might crown themselves emperor or build the largest cathedral in the world, but Banda had - or so it was supposed - provided pounds 10m from his own pocket to set up an institution of permanent social worth, with another large sum put in trust to cover the annual running costs of about pounds 1.3m. But when the new government took over and did some basic auditing, it quickly discovered that the annual expenses had been lifted directly from the national educational budget.

During the course of my interview with Banda, before we got round to Caesar, I had asked him about his school. He had said that he had built it so that young people could receive the kind of education in Malawi that he had been forced to seek abroad. "Some appreciate it, some don't. But that was my idea."

ACCORDING TO the doctors called on by the court to assess Banda's mental capabilities, he has withdrawn in a way that is commonly observed in old people. I listened to a taped session conducted by the medical panel.

"Are you lonely?" Banda was asked by the psychiatrist.

"Oh I prefer to be alone most of the time," Banda replied. "Then I can relax, instead of talk, talk, talk, talk ... I want to rest, be quiet."

Years ago, Banda once lectured his parliament on the "trouble with Africa", which he attributed to "too many ignorant people who do not know anything about history, and if they do know anything about it they do not know how to interpret and apply it." That Banda himself offered a lesson for future rulers was a fact appreciated by the commission, whose report concluded:

This Inquiry should also serve as a warning to all governments that however strong and unchallenged their authority may seem to be at a given moment in time, life is dynamic and things change, and that one day the meekest of the meek will be in a position to rise and question their deeds, and that the truth cannot be suppressed completely and forever.

Banda, surely, would have appreciated the Greek eloquence of this passage.

a Caroline Alexander 1995

! This account is taken from the latest issue of 'Granta' magazine, which was published last week (available in bookshops or by subscription, Free Call 0500 004033).