Tape-recordings of a meeting of the Malawi Congress Party held soon after the bishops issued a pastoral letter in March have been smuggled out of the country and independently verified.
Senior members of the government are heard calling for the bishops to be killed and refer to the 'tradition' under which disappearances are engineered. 'We shall kill them while you are watching,' says one minister.
The tape-recordings demonstrate the aggressive reaction of the Malawi government to criticism. The country's autocratic President Hastings Kamuzu Banda is more than 90 years old and observers believe he is manipulated by Cecilia Kadzimira, the Official Hostess, and her uncle John Tembo, a minister of state.
Mr Tembo is the heir apparent though he faces widespread opposition. At the taped meeting he called the bishops' letter 'an insult and abusive of the President, and of what he has done for this country'. The letter, which was read from the pulpits of Catholic churches, called for greater respect for human rights, a fairer distribution of wealth and an end to corruption by officials. Mr Tembo accused the bishops of trying to start a political party.
A speaker named Juma, the party's public relations officer, offers a parable to members of the Congress Youth League present. 'If a friend insults my father, do I need to go to my father to ask if my friend insulted him? Don't mess about. The best thing is to beat them up,' he says.
Tuzijani Phiri, party district chairman for Kasungu, says: 'Let me ask that we should meet the bishops in this hall so that we finish them off' before suggesting that the bishops should 'go to heaven to join God in advance'.
On the tape, Mordecai Malani Lungu, minister for the northern region and parliamentary Speaker, at first suggests 'dialogue and contact' with the bishops but he is shouted down and changes tack. 'War is war,' he says. 'We will be justified.' Wadson Bini Deleza, Minister without Portfolio, then makes his most belligerent and revealing intervention: 'If (Bishop) Chimole and (Archbishop) Chiona come to the gate we shall kill them . . . the Youth League will not allow a stooge or a traitor here . . we shall kill them while you are watching.
'If someone asks about the disappearances, we will say we don't know where these people have disappeared to . . . we don't go to the President to tell him . . . we say they disappeared. It means we have destroyed them before they enter the gate.'
'Today Bishop Chimole should die,' adds Hilda Manjamkhosi, Women's League district chairman for Lilongwe. 'He is a witch, deranged, useless, a useless dog. As someone said, we should piss on him. Does he not know that we piss . . . we shall shit on his head.'
Most speakers imply that the practice of liquidating opponents has existed for a long time and some proudly describe their contribution to it. The existence of the tape may prompt renewed calls for investigations into the deaths 10 years ago of Dick Matenje, the party secretary-general, Aaron Gadama, the minister for the Central Region, and two other MPs in what was said to be a car crash.
After representations to Dr Banda following the meeting, the President stepped in to prevent the death threats being carried out, though on 17 April, Mgr John Roche, one of the signatories to the letter, was given a 24-hour deportation order.
K F A Moyo, an officer at the Malawi High Commission in London, said the High Commission had no information on the tapes, and that a press release had been issued in March denying that any death threats were made against the bishops at the MCP meeting.