As we commemorate the historic struggles of workers world wide in this month of May in which labour day falls (1st May), there are notable women from the working class who deserve to be profoundly honored as heroines of the broader struggle for human rights and democracy in Malawi particularly with respect to the 1992-1994 fight against the one party state regime.
Their remarkable stories remain largely untold to the wider public or rather forgotten or skipped from the documented history of Malawi. One such woman is Florence Lungu who was arrested, harassed and tortured in detention.
She was one of the workers employed at the secretariat of the Southern Africa Trade Union Coordination Council (SATUCC) in Lilongwe for which a veteran trade unionist Chakufwa Chihana was the Secretary General.
Immediately after Chakufwa Chihana was arrested on his arrival back to Malawi on 6 April 1992 at the airport in Lilongwe for openly challenging the one party state, the police searched his residence in Area 12 suburb and raided the SATUCC secretariat in Lilongwe where they arrested Florence Lungu and the other members of staff who were found in the office namely: William Chizumba, Yaredson Ngwira, Lloyd Tembo, Joseph Miritowe including an international guest from USA by the name of Thom Medley.
One SATUCC member of staff who escaped arrest by a whisker was Chakufwa Chihana’s office secretary called Dorothy Kawala.
When the Police arrived at the SATUCC office, she was away attending a funeral where she received the news about the arrests of her work mates and her boss Chakufwa Chihana. She immediately fled to exile in Zambia. Sophia Nkosana was Dorothy Kawala’s mother.
While in custody at Police headquarters in Lilongwe, Sophia Nkosana was stripped naked, beaten, poked with cattle prod and placed in a cell smeared with excrement.
SATUCC secretariat was immediately moved to Kitwe (Zambia) where it was hosted by its affiliate the Zambia Congress of Trade Unions (ZaCTU) .
The members of staff upon their release from detention few weeks later, were invited to relocate to Kitwe to continue working for SATUCC. Florence Lungu opted to remain in Malawi and resigned.
In March 1995, the SATUCC secretariat moved back to Lilongwe. A couple of months later, the secretariat finally returned to Gaborone (Botswana) after a decade or so, this time with Morgan Tsvangirai having succeeded Chakufwa Chihana as Secretary General.