The private lives of American technology inventor Steve Jobs, neurosurgeon Ben Carson and president Barack Obama, just to mention a few, have inspired millions of people, mostly in the comfort of their living rooms, in libraries and at the slide (or click) of their fingertips as they read through these luminaries’ autobiographies.
The story of the life of South Africa’s former president, Nelson Mandela, was known to the rest of the world through his remarkable autobiography Long Walk to Freedom. During the writing of the book, the author, Richard Stengel, shadowed the iconic South African freedom fighter wherever he went and in every meeting in order to better understand the kind of man Mandela was.
In other countries, politicians use biographies to sell presidential candidates as the book gives voters an inside peep into the lives of the candidates.
Obama’s insightful Dreams From My Father is one of the books that pushed him closer to the White House in 2008.
Malawi, on the other hand, has no culture of writing biographies such that lives of celebrities, politicians and public figures are known to the public via speculation and rumour.
For instance, over a decade after Kamuzu Banda’s death, Jumani Johannsen comes to Malawi and claims that he is a son to the former president. But because there is not much literature to tell Kamuzu’s real story, Jumani’s paternity remains a mystery.
There is not a single president out of the four presidents over the past 50 years that has written their autobiography.
Among a few people that have put their lives in public include renowned aero-engineer late Landson Mhango, historian DD Phiri, and politicians George Nga Ntafu and Stanley Masauli.
What could be the reason Malawians are being kept in the dark on the private lives of most public figures? Is there anything worth hiding inside their closets?
Claim Publishers production manager John Yohane claims the people that come forward to publish biographies are missionaries.
“It is very rare for Malawian public figures to publish their autobiographies and that is not a good thing, but it maybe because the idea of writing a biography has not yet been sold to us,” says Yohane.
He adds that the poor reading culture in Malawi has affected people that might be interested in publishing their life stories since, with a few readers on the market, publishing a biography does not make business sense.
Professor of law at Chancellor College, Edge Kanyongolo, contends that most Malawian public figures do not write biographies because of the amount of work that the task involves.
“Writing a biography involves a lot of work and most people are not prepared to leave everything and concentrate on writing a book, most people are still working even at 70 and they don’t have the time,” he argues.
Kanyongolo differs with Yohane on the reading culture problem, saying the issue is not the readers or reading culture but the writers themselves. According to Kanyongolo, over the years, the reading culture in Malawi has improved.
“We have a NICE [National Initiative for Civic Education] library in every district, and community libraries and I think it would be unfair to put the blame on the reader, but I think the problem lies in the writers themselves,” says Kanyongolo.
Writer Willie Zingani bemoaned the absence of a biography culture in Malawi.
“When I was at Oxford University, I came across a biography on Kamuzu Banda by Phillip Short but I discovered the book was banned back home because it had some content which did not please the Kamuzu regime,” explains Zingani.
He admits to working on Mau Anga: Voice of a Democrat, a semi-autobiography by former president Bakili Muluzi, but he confesses that the work was done in haste.
“I haven’t come across any biography on the late [president Bingu wa] Mutharika but I was commissioned to work on Joyce Banda’s biography some years ago but we did not finish the project,” he explains.
Like Kanyongolo, Zingani says that he cannot blame people’s reluctance to write biographies as it involves a lot of research.
“In other countries, they have a presidential biographer who is responsible for researching and writing presidential biographies. It is high time we started writing our biographies,” says Zingani.
He adds that the cost of publishing a book has skyrocketed, forcing people who are willing to write biographies to just give up on their dream.
“Through biographies, one can inspire many lives, whether it’s a politician, a pastor or any other public figure,” he argues.
Lifting the Lid
Church wedding instructors didn’t mention HIV tests!
For all the talk about zokoka, the shopping list and sex education during my marriage counselling session, there was not even the faintest mention of HIV. None of the female or male church wedding instructors hinted or even encouraged getting an HIV test!
How can one lecture on sex without talking about the risks! A pregnancy test was mentioned a number of times, which I found peculiar—if one is pregnant and getting married should that not be welcomed as (hopefully) the right thing to do. The church, in my opinion, is wrongly placed to lecture on the finer details of sex. If they want this role, then they need to tackle all aspects of it including the risks and the importance of honesty, faithfulness and communication in marriage.
I assume the default thinking of this synod’s session is that those getting married are all virgins and, therefore, encouraging people to test for HIV is not necessary. Well that is wrong! How many of you can admit to being a virgin when you got married? Besides, HIV can be transmitted in a number of ways not just through sex—from mother to child during and after pregnancy (there are people who have grown up with HIV having being infected at birth) and blood to blood contact HIV transmission such as during transfusions.
I came across a newspaper report where the Malawi Council of Churches general secretary in relation to HIV was quoted as saying a husband or wife who is not satisfied in their matrimonial bed will look for it elsewhere. This notion perpetuates that infidelity is the fault of the other person, not the person who is cheating. It wrongly places the blame. I’m sure this is not the church’s intention. I work in science communication and one of the things we talk a lot about is framing—negative and positive framing. I find most messages in Malawi are framed negatively, if you don’t do this, this bad thing will happen to you. Rather than more positively…if you and your partner have an honest and committed loving marriage then sex can be a wonderful and special thing. Granted, some people will cheat regardless!
The Catholic Church Strategic Framework for 2012-2016 notes that “Currently, there is inadequate guidance on issues of sexual reproductive health within church programmes”. The strategic framework is silent on HIV testing and counselling. As for CCAP, I was unable to retrieve online documentation that states any synod’s stance on pre-marital HIV testing and counselling.
In the eastern province of Kenya, religious leaders held a VCT Sunday where church members could get HIV testing and counselling after church. Pastors and church elders and their partners took the lead in getting tested.
Unfortunately, studies in Malawi have found that when HIV testing is a prerequisite for marriage, cancellations of marriage can lead the community to conclude that one or both of the parties is HIV-positive, and secrecy may no longer be possible to maintain.
I am not at all suggesting that pre-marital HIV testing be mandatory or that the church provide such services or even that the church be privy to the test results but that the church should encourage couples to get tested and seek counselling on the results of those tests.