Malawi: Statue of Malawian Revolutionary Unveiled in London

A statue of John Chilembwe, a leading figure in Malawi’s liberation from Britain’s colonial rule, has been erected in London.

The sculpture, made by Malawian-born artist Samson Kambalu, was unveiled on Wednesday on Trafalgar Square’s Fourth Plinth.

Kambalu’s bronze statue stands at five metres tall and towers above the man he stands beside, a missionary, John Chorley.

The plinth is probably the most famous public art installation in the world, and a fitting platform for Chilembwe, the first African figure to occupy it. While the other three plinths are occupied permanently, rotating installations occupy the fourth.

Chilembwe was a preacher who led an uprising against Malawi’s colonial government in 1915.

He was born in the 1870s in Nyasaland, modern-day Malawi. In 1892 he was employed as a servant to a missionary called John Booth.

Together, Chilembwe and Booth dedicated themselves to unshackling Africans from their European colonists and travelled to America.

When World War One broke out in 1914, Chilembwe was outraged that Malawians were being forced to go and fight against Germany on Britain’s behalf.

He returned to Malawi to organise an uprising against the imperialist rulers.

The odds were always stacked against them, and the violent revolution was put down after just a few days. Chilembwe was shot dead escaping the country in 1915.

Chilembwe’s methods would go on to inspire many of the 20th century’s great revolutionaries and pan-Africanists.

Kambalu’s giant statue is a tribute to that legacy.

“Many people may not know who John Chilembwe is. And that is the whole point,” Kambalu told the BBC.

“By increasing his scale, the artist elevates Chilembwe and his story, revealing the hidden narratives of underrepresented peoples in the history of the British Empire in Africa, and beyond,” reads a description on the Mayor of London’s website.


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