Hastings Banda was one of the more enigmatic “Big Men” of the post-independence era in Africa. He was Malawi’s first President and ruled the country for 30 years until he was voted out of power in 1994. There were many conflicting reports of Hastings Banda’s early life, and the man himself seemed a mass of contradictions. He was at one and the same time a quiet, Westernized, doctor, and a fiery orator for independence. He railed against colonial domination, but worked closely with Aparthed South Africa.
Name: Hastings Kamuzu Banda
Birth: c. 1906 or c. 1898, possibly in British Central Africa (now, Malawi)
Occupations: Miner; Manager; Student; Doctor; Activist; Minister; Prime Minister; President; Life President of Malawi
Death: November 25, 1997, Johannesburg, South Africa
Early Years: Malawi and South Africa
There are a number of conflicting stories about Hastings Banda’s life before he rose to power in the 1950s, but he certainly had a transnational early life.
He was born in Kasungu, Malawi, which at the time was the British Central Africa Protectorate, but the date of his birth is disputed. Officially he was born in 1906, but he agreed later that it might have been 1898. At some point in his early years, a Scottish mission was established in Kasungu, and many have speculated that this early contact had a profound effect on Banda as he was so Europeanized and puritanical in his morality.
According to Banda, when he was a young man, he walked 1,000 miles to South Africa in search of work in the mines. It was a claim every Malawian knew once he was President, and it is very plausible. Throughout the twentieth century, many men in Malawi traveled to South Africa – some on foot – in search of work in the mining sector.
Doctor: United States, Britain, and Ghana
However, he came to be there, it is known that in South Africa, Hastings Banda came to the attention of missionaries, who helped secure him entry to college in the United States. He studied in Ohio, Indiana, and Chicago, Illinois before attending Meharry Medical School in Tennessee. To practice medicine in the British Empire, though, he needed additional accreditation from a British school, so he also attended medical school in Scotland.
Banda’s medical studies had been partially funded, (though again there are conflicting reports) by the colonial government of Nyasaland (as Malawi was then known), but after receiving his degree Banda remained in Britain, practicing first in Liverpool and then in Edinburg.
Apparently, Banda was a good doctor. His practice thrived, with a broad spectrum of people seeking his medical care, though there are occasional reports of people who were displeased with his care. While there, he had an affair with his secretary, and there are many who believe he fathered a son by her, but others say that he was not the father of her son. It was at this time, though, that he moved from London to Ghana, where he practiced medicine for several more years.
Dowden, Richard. “Obituary: Dr. Hastings Banda,” Independent 26 November 1997.
“Hastings Banda,” Economist, November 27, 1997.
Kamkwamba, William and Bryan Mealer, The Boy who Harnessed the Wind. New York: Harper Collins, 2009.
‘Kanyarwunga’, “Malawi; The Incredible True Story of Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda,” History of Africa Otherwise blog, November 7, 2011.