Martyrs’ Day in Malawi

Martyrs’ Day is a public holiday that is observed annually on March 3rd in Malawi. It is a holiday that commemorates and honors the heroes who gave their lives in the quest against colonialism by the British Empire. It was the events of March 1959 that would later be seen as some of the first steps towards independence for Malawi—independence that it gained in July of 1964.

This is a day that is not only marked by political speeches and church services but is also a day when the general public has a day off. Government buildings, schools, and many businesses are closed on this holiday.

The History of Martyrs’ Day in Malawi

Near the end of the 19th century, Great Britain established the British Central Africa Protectorate—an area that included what is now known as Malawi. In 1907, this protectorate was renamed Nyasaland.

During the mid-20th century, Malawian nationalism began to take root, and as a result, protests began across the country. Along with the protests, two political parties were also formed. The most powerful one that emerged was the Nyasaland African Congress (NAC).

In 1959, the NAC accelerated the protests to put pressure on the British government. As a result, the British declared a state of emergency on March 3, 1959, and perceived dissidents were soon arrested.

The arrests would only lead to more protests, and the British lost control of the situation rather quickly. All of this ended up with Malawi gaining its independence in July of 1964. In 1974, President Kamuzu Banda declared March 3rd as a public holiday. He attributed independence directly to what happened in 1959.

Observing Martyrs’ Day in Malawi

All across the country, this holiday is celebrated with special events and political speeches. It is also a day on which Malawians can attend religious services and pray for their continued freedom.

Another thing that occurs on this holiday is special wreath-laying ceremonies on the graves of those who partook in the mid-century protests and fell victim to Operation Sunrise.

Where is it celebrated?
Malawi (Public holiday)
When is it?
This year (2024)
March 3 Sunday
Next year (2025)
March 3 Monday
Last year (2023)
March 3 Friday