It was a hot afternoon yesterday at Agabu Village, Traditional Authority Ganya in Ntcheu but certainly not too hot to deter hundreds who travelled from across the country to escort departed journalist Raphael Tenthani to his final resting place.
It was an emotional afternoon as scores of mourners watched the deceased’s mother cry out loud, asking the heavens to bring back her 44-year-old second-born child.
“Where is the crack in your head, Ralph? Where is it?” she cried after viewing the remains of her son, who died in a car crash on Saturday night.
Her pain deeply stems from culture. Among the Ngoni, unless during war, sons and daughters bury their parents not the other way round.
At exactly 3.45pm, after a Catholic mass, dirges and eulogies, the Muckraker, as Tenthani was fondly known for his Muckraking on Sunday column published in The Sunday Times, was interred—signalling an end of media journey well lived.
Just like his send-off at the College of Medicine (CoM) mortuary in Blantyre on Sunday, Tenthani’s burial, too, was a communion of shared sorrow by various sections of society.
President Peter Mutharika delegated Minister of Information, Tourism and Culture Kondwani Nakhumwa to tell Tenthani’s family the country had lost a great son.
Former president Bakili Muluzi sat a few centimetres from People’s Progressive Movement (PPM) president Mark Katsonga, Malawi Congress Party (MCP) spokesperson Jessie Kabwila, MCP secretary general Gustav Kaliwo and United Democratic Front (UDF) publicity secretary Ken Ndanga: some of the leaders Nakhumwa said drunk deep from Tenthani’s Sunday advice.
Civil society organisations (CSOs), which hailed Tenthani for uncovering issues they could sometimes fail to, were also there.
Media managers, too, who shaped Tenthani and then, with time, got shaped by him, were also represented. His last boss, Times Group managing director Leonard Chikadya, Mbumba Banda of Nation Publications Limited (NPL) who employed Tenthani in the mid-1990s, Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) acting director general Aubrey Sumbuleta and Alaudin Osman of Capital Radio were among those present to escort their son on his last mile.
British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) for which Tenthani was the longest serving Malawi correspondent dispatched his compatriot, Chakuchanya Harawa, who flew in from the United Kingdom (UK) with a message from across the world that Tenthani was a global icon with a rare sense of humanity, and a great journalist.
On Sunday evening, BBC aired a six-minute tribute to Tenthani in which BBC Africa editor Solomon Mugera said Tenthani’s writing was so unique that he left the reader or listener with no option but admire the craftiness of the author.
Said Mugera: “What struck me right away most was not his voice on air—because Raphael Tenthani was not very much on air—but it was his writing. This guy’s writing was second to none.”
The multi-sectoral communion at Tenthani’s burial, Nakhumwa, spoke of a celebrated journalist who soared to a national figure.
But a tearful Kizito, the deceased’s younger brother, said he saw his brother neither as a celebrated journalist nor an adviser to the most powerful.
Said Kizito: “He [Raphael] was my brother, my only brother. The only brother, the only one who taught me to speak, to walk, just everything.
“When I met people wherever I went, I was recognised because of him. How will I, now, be recognised?”
Even to the village, said village head Agabu, Tenthani was their man who on the afternoon of the day he died, toured the entire village sharing smiles with everybody.
At church, Agabu Parish minister said Tenthani made significant contributions, the most recent one being funds he donated for the purchase of iron sheets.
To the media, as eulogised by Thom Khanje, Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa) Malawi chairperson, the nation has lost a rare gem whose story of death was covered by international media houses such as the New York Times in the United States of America (USA) and BBC.
“Will we ever have a journalist of such global importance?”asked Khanje.
There was no answer to his question; instead, there was just silence, emptiness almost.
Then mourners sang a Catholic hymn as the remains of the Muckraker were being led to the final place: “Go well; Go well. Forget not, your Rosary.”
As men of God pronounced “ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” calling heavens to receive Tenthani and awaken him on the day of resurrection, there was silence as the celebrated journalist, a national figure silently walked his last mile.
It was a tearful and painful end to the story of ‘the Muckraker’ on earth.