The Late Charles Chindongo is not new to my motivational columns. We covered him a few years ago. He died last week in Mzuzu and was buried in Blantyre. We want to honour him by sharing again the special lessons from a special man that lectured in civil engineering, architecture, surveying and related programmes at the Malawi Polytechnic for four decades since the 1970s. I am one of many that he taught. He taught me a module in introduction to civil engineering and land surveying in my first year in engineering.
Chindongo was strict in his lectures. He was clear from day 1 that he was to teach us not just to get degrees but that also we become ‘Munthu’. He wanted holistic development of a graduate as a responsible, mature and decent human being. He was always well dressed and demanded the same from all students.
He would be on the door as we came in and checked that we have trousers and not shorts, shirts tucked in complete with formal shoes and not sports shoes, sneakers or sandals. Hair must have a gentleman’s cut and well combed. The girls too had to have similarly high standards of dressing when going to his lectures. One by one he would decide whether you met the standard to attend his lecture or not. His rules were clear to us all from first day, when everyone was allowed in his class to hear the rules and next time you would only enter if you complied!
When we wrote his assignments there was a little ceremony in handing in the assignment to him. We went one by one and had to say: “I Matthews Mtumbuka, am giving you Mr Chindongo, this assignment which ‘I have done to the best of my ability’”.
Tawachi Nyasulu, a 2003 Electrical Engineering graduate and now completing her PhD in Electrical and Electronic Engineering majoring in ‘Internet of Things” at Strathclyde University in Scotland wrote on Facebook: “Recently, during a conversation with a friend who was urging me to hurry up to submit a paper, to which I replied: “I will submit when I am confident that it is the best version because Mr Chindongo taught me to submit work that is done to the best of my ability”. He made a lasting impression.”
This was echoed by registered engineer Phideria Clara Negece Moyo who was a class ahead of Tawachi: “The ‘To the best of my ability’ legend.
In all my mentorship sessions I always quote his phrases and mention his name : The emphasis on ‘No Matter’ how small, simple, stupid, silly or senseless the task at hand may look to you, always do it to ‘the best’ of your best of ability as that’s how the world will judge you – that the output has all you could offer and that tinny outputs build up big things.” She is a deputy director in the Ministry of Agriculture and a specialist in irrigation engineering.
My classmate and a lecturer in civil engineering at the Polytechnic Petros Zuzani wrote: “He was synonymous to ‘Attention to detail’ & ‘To the best of my ability’. A perfectionist in everything, dressing, eating, speaking, walking and so on”
The well known Football Administrator and mechanical engineer Gift Mkandawire wrote: “Most of you found him in the afternoon but during his morning, he was even more strict with discipline, including dressing. I will never forget one day the whole two periods of his surveying class ended with only lecturing to us about college life versus our future, how after five years each one will go his way and that we should not copy behavior of the other because our destinations are different.”
Chindongo shaped us in a very unique way. He brought order and discipline in a place that had perhaps too much freedom. I hope that even those who did not meet this great man will have learnt and been inspired by these selected memories from nearly a hundred comments on Facebook from several generations that he taught at the Poly.
May the soul of the special Chindongo Rest In Eternal Peace.