The object of the Malawi Press Limited was initially focussed on providing the Party machinery with the channel for conveying its messages to the electorate and counteracting the Nyasaland Government propaganda.  Upon attaining independence and particularly after the Cabinet crisis in October 1964, it was felt desirable or even necessary for the company to look at business avenues that would raise financial resources for the MCP on a more sustained basis.  In addition, whilst initially the central objective of the Malawians was political independence, it soon became obvious that this alone was not sufficient.  Dr Banda repeatedly said that after he won the political war, his focus would now move to the economic war.  To appreciate the benefits of political independence, it was necessary for the people of Malawi to become actors in the economy which was, until then, largely controlled by Asians and a few Whites.  A decision was taken to transform Malawi Press Limited into Malawi Press (1966) Limited.  The main thrust of the successor organisation was to take on the Asians and the Whites and provide a countervailing force so as to level the playing field for the benefit of the indigenous Malawians.

Three years later (1969) Press (Holdings) Limited was created as a holding company to hold shares in various businesses including the Malawi Press (1966) Limited.   Press (Holdings) Limited went flat out to get into various businesses ranging from agriculture to transport.

Press (Holdings) Limited 

The original shareholders of the PHL were two MCP seasoned politicians: the late Mr. Richard Katengeza and the late Mr. Sydney Somanje as nominees of the people of Malawi.

In 1970, the Central Executive Committee of the MCP decided that the original shareholders of the Malawi Press Limited, namely, Dr. Banda and Mr. Aleke Banda, should also be shareholders of Press (Holdings) Limited.  Following this decision, Dr Banda held 499,999 shares while Mr Aleke Banda held one share in the Press (Holdings) Limited, both as nominees of the people of Malawi.

In 1973, Mr. Aleke Banda was expelled from the MCP.  As a consequence of that expulsion, he was required to transfer the single share he held to another MCP nominee.  From 1974, Dr Kamuzu Banda became Chairman of Press (Holdings) Limited.  At this time, Mr Aleke Banda had been re-instated in the MCP and became the First Deputy Chairman and Managing Director of Press (Holdings) Limited.  However, a mere six years later, he was detained and once again he was forced to transfer the single share he held in Press (Holdings) Limited.  This time, the share was transferred to Mr. Sydney Somanje.  When Mr. Somanje died, this share was transferred to Press (Holdings) Limited and on 13th May 1994, it was transferred to Mr. John Tembo. 

With the passage of time, Press Holdings Limited became, in essence, a quasi-public body and enjoyed preferential treatment.  For example, its loans were guaranteed by the Malawi Government.  The company was considered to be a vehicle for development.  Because of its status as a quasi-public body, the company enjoyed considerable credit facilities from local banks.  Unfortunately, by 1981 Press (Holdings) Limited had become so heavily indebted that it was on the brink of collapse.  Given its dominant position in the economy, its collapse would inevitably have led to the collapse of the Malawi economy.  This prompted the Malawi Government to seek financial assistance from the World Bank and IMF to rescue it from the imminent economic collapse.  The World Bank and IMF provided a loan to the Government which was in turn passed onto Press (Holdings) Limited through ADMARC.  This was on condition that the company would be restructured and it would issue income notes as security for the loan.

Restructuring of Press (Holdings) Limited

As part of the restructuring process, it is believed to be the case that Dr. Banda’s hand may have been forced to create a trust1, The Press Trust, to which he transferred all the shares he held in Press (Holdings) Limited.  On 10th February 1982, by a Trust Deed, he settled his shareholdings in Press (Holdings) Limited for the benefit of the people of Malawi.  Subsequently, on 5th March 1982, Press Trust was incorporated under the Trustees Incorporation Act (Cap 5:03 of the1
1 - This is mere conjecture as there has been no one who could speak to this from their own personal knowledge of the turn of events.

Laws of Malawi).  As a way of reinforcing the principle that Press Trust was created for the benefit of the people of Malawi, the person holding the office of Minister of Finance in the Malawi Government was made an ex-officio trustee of Press Trust.  Therefore, the initial Trustees of Press Trust were Dr. Banda, the settlor, the then Minister of Finance, Mr. Chakakala Chaziya, Mr. Aaron Gadama, and Mr. John Ngwiri.  Under Clause III and Clause XI (4) of the Trust Deed, Dr. Banda, as settlor, "freely and voluntarily and in consideration of his love and affection for and dedication to the Malawi Nation and in furtherance of his desire to encourage, assist, promote and advance the well-being and welfare of the Malawi Nation, granted and conveyed unto the Trustees his shareholding in Press (Holdings) Limited."

However, the shares were not transferred to the Trustees until 16th December 1993, after a period of over 10 years from the creation of the Trust.  Strangely, Dr Banda was paid the sum of K999,998.00 for the 499,999 shares he held in Press (Holdings) Limited.

1993 - A Watershed Year in Malawi’s Democratic Transformation

In 1992, Malawians seem to have rediscovered their age-old intolerance to undemocratic system thus irreversibly propelling the nation back into the transition process.  However, constitutionally, legally and politically, the pivotal year in Malawi’s transition from single-party to a multiparty system was 1993.  On June 14th of that year a referendum was held at which Malawians were to indicate the system of rule of their choice: one-party or multipartyism.  The outcome was in favour of the latter with a vote of 63 percent in favour.

Multiparty Presidential and Parliamentary General Elections, the first of their type in over three decades, were held in May 1994.  Pitted against Dr. Banda (representing the MCP) were two key candidates: Chakufwa Chihana (AFORD), and Bakili Muluzi (UDF).  Victory went to Bakili Muluzi who was accordingly sworn in as State President.

The New Political Dispensation

Immediately the UDF came into power in 1994, one of the first issues it dealt with was the status of the Press Trust.  Until then, the social and economic activities of the Trust were shrouded in some secrecy.  The majority of people suspected that Trust’s activities sought to bolster the MCP and therefore indirectly entrenching the continuation of the one party regime.  This was seen as a threat to the new democratic dispensation which had ushered in multiparty democracy in 1994 as this would support one party at the expense of all others and therefore placing the benefitting party at a distinct advantage. 
It needs to be recalled that:

  • The initial capital of the Malawi Press Limited had come –albeit in part –from donations and contributions from the rank and file of the MCP; and
  • During the one-party era, basically all African Malawians were members of the MCP.

Bearing the foregoing in mind, the UDF Government believed that it was not tenable for anyone to take the position that Press (Holdings) Limited and its subsidiaries were mainly for the benefit of the MCP.  It was for the benefit of the Malawi people.  The Press Trust Reconstruction Act (PTRA), 1995 thus merely sought to underscore this position.  It is said that attempts by the UDF Government to negotiate with Dr. Banda and the MCP to depoliticise the Trust did not bear fruit.  As a consequence, the UDF Government was left with no viable option but to seek legislative enactment of the PTRA on 7th November 1995 which came into force on 1st January 1996.   By virtue of Section 3 of the PTRA, the original Trust Deed of 1982 was varied to the extent contained in a Deed of Variation comprised in the Schedule to the PTRA.

Between 1996 and 1997, Press Trust became the object of heated debate between the Government and the Opposition as Dr Banda and MCP challenged the validity of the PTRA.  The matter was referred to the country’s Judiciary for a determination regarding the validity of the PTRA.  On January 31 1997, the Supreme Court of Malawi upheld the legitimacy and validity of the Act in the land mark decision that helped to put the matter to rest.

Principal Object of the Trust

The main object of Press Trust (Paragraph 3 of the Deed) is to provide funding by way of grants, donations or contributions to any person or institution for charitable purposes which are in the interest and for the benefit of the people of Malawi including for the advancement of their education, health, social welfare and housing. The definition clause in the Deed stipulates that National Benefit Purposes means “such charitable purposes as are in the interest and for the benefit of the people of Malawi including but without prejudice to the generality of the foregoing for the advancement of their education, health, welfare and housing”. 

Briefly, this is the history of the Press Trust. 

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Press Trust
Floor 9, Kangombe House
Private Bag 359,
City Centre,
Lilongwe 3,
Malawi.

Telephone : +265 1 772 844 , Fax : +265 1 771 692
Email - info@presstrustmw.com
Web Site - www.presstrust.mw