Is there any connection between one’s name and character?
Surely there must be some collation, especially in the hectic and yawn-inspiring routines of directing traffic on the busy roads of Lilongwe City.
This feeling best describes what many motorists and passengers make of sub-inspector Kondwani Katunga, who dances his mornings and evenings away in the thick of traffic.
The traffic police officer truly lives up to his first name—Kondwani—which literally means ‘be happy’.
When he goes through his traffic directing paces on capital city’s congested roads, Katunga’s dance moves easily force smiles to break out on the faces of many drivers and pedestrians frowning at the delays traffic jams often entail.
Classically, the white-gloved hands of the traffic officer go into a mesmerising flurry like a connoisseur directing an orchestra to breathe in and out as he orders vehicles in front to a stop, with a rigid raised arm.
Using his other hand, initially as a prod, he then nudges cars on a frozen lane to start moving.
And as he dares the drivers who have just received the green light from his magical gloves, Katunga will not just want them to move; they will also need to move fast, as his hands will demand through quick-set whipping actions or tell-tale motions of the instruction-happy hand.
It will not only be Katunga’s hands that will be attracting attention and action on these busy roads. It will also be his subtle footwork—as he boldly steps forward or sideways to cut traffic flow in one lane and trigger the flow in the next lane—that sets this professional apart.
For the one hour, or so, that Katunga will be at work on any heavy-traffic spot in Lilongwe, rest assured he will clear the traffic congestion quickly and almost stylishly.
Such is the unique choreography that makes motorists smile and look forward to another ride on the crammed road which are not getting less congested tomorrow.
All the while, some pedestrians spend a long time watching this traffic officer at it. Some of these, and a few motorists, cannot help secretly taking video clips of the passionate worker as he struts about.
It is little wonder that people fondly refer to Katunga as a ‘break-dancer’, ‘choir master’ or ‘dolo’ (the latter being a vernacular name for ‘expert’).
When we chatted with the traffic officer, away from his exacting road work, Katunga humbly feigned surprise that people shower him with many names.
“I don’t know how I can be referred to as a ‘break-dancer’,” he says, smiling broadly.
Nonetheless, he promptly, apparently, addresses the reason for such a name.
“I must confess that I have a great passion for my work,” he says.
“When I am on the road, directing traffic, my hand and leg actions need to be authoritative and clear, reflecting the need for motorists to respond to my body-language instructions speedily.”
The man, from Zam’mimba Village in Senior Chief Nsamala in Balaka joined Malawi Police Service (MPS) in 2006, after passing Malawi School Certificate of Education (MSCE) examinations at St Louis Montfort Secondary School in the Eastern Region district the previous year.
After completing his six-month course at the Police Training School (PTS) in Limbe, he worked as a general duties officer at Kawale Police Post in Lilongwe before he was sent to a traffic officers’ intake course at Mlangeni PTS in Dedza.
“The course was a tough one, but I worked hard until I passed out as a traffic officer,” Katunga recalls.
He briefly returned to Kawale Police Post before he also worked at the Sanctuary Police Post and at the Lilongwe Police Station.
As he settled down over the past few years, passion for his work started showing when he emerged as a people’s darling in traffic control on the roads in Lilongwe.
Asked whether he had seen and copied actions of other traffic officers in the country, or abroad, who had exhibited the near-melodramatic touch to their work on the roads, Katunga denies such a development.
He explains: “I developed this working style on my own, mainly because I needed to convey a sense of urgency to motorists as they take my instructions. In fact, my work flow came to the surface rather late because I, initially, thought my supervisors would admonish me for my rather unorthodox or eccentric, style.
“But my supervisors, who accompanied me on the road beats, were supportive of my own style of working. Actually, they complimented me for showing a creative way of doing my work.”
Before long, members of the public flooded the MPS leadership with compliments on how Katunga was an effective and outstanding traffic officer.
Some people even shared video clips of the traffic officer in action, on social media platforms, where more complimentary remarks were generated.
The MPS headquarters at Area 30 in Lilongwe, then summoned Katunga twice, in quick succession.
First, it was to give him a letter of commendation over his work.
Second, the bosses gave him a K100 000 prize for being a star performer in his work.
In March, last year, Katunga received a rare promotion—jumping the rank of Sergeant to become sub-inspector.
“I was humbled and motivated at the same time,” he says, thanking his superiors for the support they give him and other traffic officers as they execute the challenging work on the roads.
Last year, became a special one for Katunga, when he obtained a diploma in business management under the UK-based Association of Business Executives (ABE) Board.
Always motivated, he says: “Resources permitting, I intend to go on to earn a degree in management sometime soon.
As for my work on the roads, my resolve to making our busy roads safer seems to be growing by the day.”