A large statue of Malawian freedom fighter John Chilembwe has been unveiled in London’s historic Trafalgar Square.

Chilembwe, a pan Africanist who inspired other freedom fighters, who was born in 1871 and grew up in Chiradzulu District, later worked under Joseph Booth, a missionary, and the two eventually travelled to the US, where the Malawian studied theology in Virginia and witnessed the struggles of African Americans.

When he returned to Malawi as an ordained preacher, Chilembwe established a church as well as schools and farms in Chiradzulu.

Chilembwe’s statue stands at five metres towering over that of Chorley’s, John Chorley is a European missionary. The artwork named Antelope and Malawian Samson Kambalu made the statues.

The artwork restages a famous photograph taken in 1914 of Chilembwe standing next to British missionary Chorley, outside his church in Mbombwe village in southern Malawi.

During this time, white settlers were forcing Malawians off their land and Malawian soldiers were also being taken to Tanzania to fight against the German army in the World War One.

Chilembwe expressed discontent over these injustices and in January 1915 he led an uprising against white settlers. Chilembwe was shot dead a few days later while trying to cross into what is now Mozambique.

“The story of Chilembwe reveled the hidden narratives of underrepresented peoples in the history of the British Empire in Africa, and beyond,” says the Mayor of London’s website.

Speaking to the BBC, Kambalu who is an associate professor of fine art at the University of Oxford in England, expressed hope that the statue will start a page in Britain that is still coming to reckoning with their colonial past, and the sculpture brings to light the forgotten histories of the empire, and society is looking for that recognition.

Malawi eventually became independent in 1964 and today, Chilembwe is on banknotes and there are is a highway named after him. Malawi also celebrates John Chilembwe Day on January 15 every year.


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