Despite being Malawi’s capital, our city tour took just half a day and we felt we must have missed something. However, on checking with Guy and Maureen back at “Kumbali Country Lodge”:https://www.silvertraveladvisor.com/review/accommodation/177121-review-kumbali-country-lodge, they confirmed the city has no real heart.
It’s divided into numbered areas, which are not in an orderly sequence. There’s an Old Town (areas 1 to 4), which was the original city before it became the capital in 1975, and Capital City, which is the equivalent of Whitehall with Parliament, ministries and foreign embassies. There’s been a significant amount of Chinese investment: a glitzy casino, 40,000-seater football stadium and shopping complex, but this is not the place for commenting on the merits of this.
We passed roadside stalls with hands of bananas and oranges and another with meat simply hung on bamboo poles and open to the elements and flies. In contrast, we saw elaborate cream and green-roofed villas, used for visiting ambassadors which appear to lie empty the remainder of the time.
Our first stop was the tall obelisk-like War Memorial which stands in a huge open area which, according to the guide, will be shortly redeveloped with statues of two illustrious Malawians on either side, a leisure centre and recreational area. It remains to be seen whether this will happen. Plaques on the memorial were inscribed with the names of British and Malawian soldiers killed in battle but sadly, three had been recently stolen. On ‘Poppy Day’, the troops parade here and on the 11th hour a soldier climbs to the top and blows his trumpet. We were invited to climb the 103 metal steps and three vertical ladders up a cylinder. I made it up the first ladder, before deciding to quit whilst I was ahead leaving the boys to continue and admire the views which included a large bronze statue of Dr Hastings Banda in the style of John Betjeman at St Pancras.
At the flea market, we walked around stalls selling a range of shoes, clothes, fresh fruit and vegetables and crossed one of the many rickety bridges built over the river to avoid the long trip round to a large modern shopping centre – a stark contrast. Driving around, many of the shop signs we saw amused us: ‘Meat House – eggs, fish and gizzards’ and ‘God Smile Hairdresser and Barber’ and one church was named the ‘Mountain of Fires and Miracles Ministries’.
Our final stop was at the Banda Mausoleum where the actual body is buried in an inaccessible gated area, with a replica up a short flight of steps. We heard lots about the good works of the autocratic Dr Banda but again in contrast, read many interesting facts. I have two favourites. Firstly, after returning to Malawi from London, because he was cited in a divorce case, he banned the wearing of mini-skirts and women from wearing trousers. Secondly, he banned Simon and Garfunkle’s famous song, ‘Cecilia, you’re breaking my heart’ when its release coincided with a rocky period of his relationship with his mistress Cecilia.