October 12 2019. Today, it is six months two weeks since Dr Desmond Dudwa Phiri, popularly known as DD Phiri, passed on. He died on March 24 2019. He wrote over 17 books on history, fiction, biography and culture besides running columns in Nation Publications Limited and Times Group newspapers. I reproduce my eulogy for this prolific and eminent author, historian, economist, political and social commentator, literary luminary and a great son of this country.
It is not easy to say anything more sensible and new about the late DD Phiri, than what has already been eulogized about him following his recall to glory at Mwaiwathu Private Hospital.
In his eulogy my boss, Nation Publications (NPL) deputy chief executive, Alfred Ntonga, among other things, described DD Phiri’s death as a big blow to the media industry: “But at Nation Publications Limited our library has caught fire. DD Phiri dedicated his life to reading different books to ensure that he gave Malawians the right information. But he will be alive forever.” Mr. Ntonga could not have been more apt.
DD Phiri’s works are well documented. For one to be able to write extensively, one also has to read voraciously—newspapers, books, journals, magazines and anything one can lay one’s hands on. DD Phiri did just that. In all his writings, there was irrefutable and discreditable evidence of someone who was well read.
DD Phiri has been writing the DD Phiri Column in The Nation since 1993 and Business & Economic Forum in the same newspaper since 2006. Seeing that he still needed another outlet for his works, around 2008 he started writing a column in The Daily Times—DD Phiri Insight. In between his busy writing and reading schedules for the two papers which have strict deadlines for submission of material, DD Phiri still had time to write books on history, fiction and biographies as well as study lessons for his Aggrey Memorial College (AMC). He has over 17 titles to his credit. Occasionally, NPL could also commission DD Phiri to write essays on specific topics—especially of historical nature. He mostly wrote on business, economics and on politics. He also commented on issues about the Mzimba Heritage. In the 2000s when there was a conversation to split Mzimba into two or more districts, he vehemently opposed the idea which he disparagingly described as “dismembering our Mzimba”.
As a columnist in The Nation DD Phiri was always very professional. Just when you thought DD Phiri could not meet the deadline for his column, a type-written script would be on your desk. But most of the time, his piece would be ready several days before press time. He never disappointed. Your work would then only be to retype it, for DD Phiri never used a computer. He would give his handwritten script to his secretary who would then type it in point size 10 double spaced. If the secretary was away, he would still write and send you his handwritten script. Editors have a habit of editing material either for space or clarity. DD Phiri worked diligently with them but loathed their “holier-than-thou” attitude of changing his script except for house style or typos. He keenly followed his articles in newspapers, always querying if you delayed or did not publish his articles. “Some articles have shelf life,” he would complain.
I do not know any Malawian who has written more books than DD Phiri. Reading and writing were in his blood. Specifically writing was his passion. He wrote not just for posterity. He was a great educator and communicator who always wanted what he had written to see the light of day.
When news filtered in that DD Phiri was no more after being hospitalised for three weeks, several people suggested that he deserved a State funeral. One College of Medicine professor suggested that DD Phiri be buried at the Heroes Acre in Mzuzu. But he was buried at HHI cemetery in Blantyre. A retired secondary school teacher based in Mzimba called me to express his disappointment that DD Phiri was not accorded a national send off. A member of the NPL family also expressed the same sentiments. When I also mentioned that DD Phiri deserved a State funeral and should have been buried at the Heroes Acre in Mzuzu, the senior citizen retorted: “He deserved much more. I’m saddened”.
DD Phiri spoke little but his legacy is a symphony that will reverberate above the din of his 88 year sojourn on earth for many years. Hamba kahle Mtanami.