Success! Prof Kambalu’s John Chilembwe statue to be placed in Trafalgar Square

05 July 2021

We are delighted to share news that Professor Samson Kambalu’s statue ‘Antelope’ has been chosen to be displayed in Trafalgar Square on the Fourth Plinth.

Of the six pieces shortlisted, Professor Kambalu’s impactful statue of John Chilembwe has won by popular vote and will be displayed in 2022. A huge thank you to the many members who responded to our call to place their votes and show Scotland’s strong support for this inspiring piece of art.

This is particularly wonderful news to receive, on the eve of Malawi Independence Day, 6th July. Our sister organisation, the Malawi Scotland Partnership, will be hosting two Malawi Independence Day celebrations tomorrow, both of which will be live streamed to their Facebook page here.

Prof Kambalu’s bronze statue represents the pan-Africanist John Chilembwe (1871-1915), a key figure in the resistance to colonialism in Nyasaland (now Malawi). Beside him, on a smaller scale, stands the European missionary John Chorley.

John Chilembwe is depicted wearing a hat: a potent symbol given, during colonial rule, Malawians were expected to remove their headwear when passing, or in the presence of, a European; as well as stopping and standing to one side. This courtesy was seldom acknowledged or returned by a European, hence the justified outrage.

Trafalgar Square (like many parts of Scotland) has numerous statues and memorials celebrating British colonial power. We strongly support ‘Antelope’ as an occupant of the fourth plinth, as a powerful statement of anti-colonial resistance. Prof Kambalu has had his own ‘Scotland-Malawi partnership’ for over 20 years now (!), having met his wife Susan Kambalu (a Scot) in Malawi while she was working at Kachere Books with (SMP member) Scottish Churches World Exchange.

SMP Chief Executive David Hope-Jones said

It is a powerful, practical and constructive expression of all we have been talking about around Black Lives Matter, for an inspiring Malawian artist to be commissioned to make an inspiring statue of an inspiring Malawian freedom fighter which will sit alongside, and size up to, the many expressions of imperial power in the heart of London.

We understand the desire held by many to tear down statues which are no longer in keeping with our values today but we think it is perhaps most important that we build new statues, literal or figurative, to ensure the roles played by key black figures is not forgotten.

We have been in contact with Susan and Samson through the public voting period and they are keen to pass their thanks to all in the SMP for their support.

The SMP is committed to raising awareness of Malawi’s history, most especially its fight against colonial power. Members of the SMP have included leading historians such as Prof John McCracken, Dr John Lwanda, Dr Jack Thompson and Prof Ken Ross, who have worked to help amplify Malawi’s powerful voices from this time. The Kambalu’s have spoken of the inspiration they have drawn from this work and were part of the SMP’s book launch for 'Politics, Christianity and Society in Malawi' last November.

We look forward to continuing to work with the Kambalu’s and hope to have some exciting announcements upcoming in this space.

Scots across the country will raise glasses and join the celebrations around the World.

Samson Kambalu