How an African Student invited Malcolm X to Oxford Union debate

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Larger-frame photo, left to right: Nthenda, unidentified, Malcolm X, Oxford Union President Eric Abrahams. The smaller frame omits Abrahams due to size.

[From The Archives]

My name is Louis Nthenda --a Malawi national, now aged 72 and living in Japan-- the young Black man talking to the girl in the photo behind and to the right of Malcolm X.

In 1964, I was a 25 year-old postgraduate student at St Antony's College, Oxford with a closely cut beard. I would like to share with your readers the background of how Malcolm X came to visit UK and participate as the principal speaker in this debate.

I first met Malcolm X in the New Stanley Hotel in Nairobi on the evening of 3rd (I think?) September 1964. I had flown in from Lusaka to catch the old (and the world's first faster-than-sound plane) VC10 which in those days couldn't land in Lusaka or Salisbury (now Harare) and flew only from Nairobi.

Besides, it couldn't do the Nairobi-London flight non-stop without refuelling stops. So from Nairobi we stopped for fuel in Khartoum and at Rome's Leonardo Da Vinci before finally landing at Heathrow.

I remember at Rome, it was a longer wait and we got off to stretch our legs and visit Duty Free shops. How technology has changed! But here I am digressing. Although I am a Malawi national, I was at the time in exile and working in Zambia.

I had resigned my management position at the Anglo-American Nchanga Copper Mine, Zambia, to become Leverhulme Research Scholar at St Antony's College, Oxford. I had to stay overnight in Nairobi. I was sitting at the dinner table by myself among a sea of white faces when I noticed another not-so-white face across the room also sitting by himself. As Northern Rhodesia (this was before Zambia's independence) had TV broadcasting, I easily recognised the face as Malcolm X's.

1964 was the year he visited Mecca and he had been going around the Middle East giving "incendiary" speeches. He had just flown in from Nasser's Egypt (or was it from the OAU meet in Addis Ababa?) and I had been following his pilgrimage through Newsweek and Northern Rhodesia TV. Anyway, I walked across and asked if I could move to his table with my dinner. He said yes.....

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