A statesman, a culture custodian, an education champion, an administrator of repute, a politician, a religious and family man: former vice-president Justin Malewezi was on Saturday laid to rest in Lilongwe as a leader who wore many hats, earning praise for starring roles in championing change in many sectors.
Of all the tributes, it was Violet Nthala, a beneficiary of Malewezi’s educational support towards underprivileged children who painted his life with a different brush—that of his charitable work—a field he embraced without blowing his own trumpet.
She spoke from the heart with each word laced with gratitude, feelings of great loss and a deep sense of brokenness as she parted with the man she prominently knew as the patron of Mwana wa Mnzako Charity Organisation which runs an education bursary programmes
“Dr Malewezi was a wonderful person who has impacted our lives as underprivileged children in communities surrounding Likuni Parish,” she said. “I am sure he has impacted on many others out there.”
After precisely three minutes of her speech, Nthala broke down in tears and froze into stillness, pushed to murmur her concluding lines: “He is gone, but his spirit and wisdom remain with us…we truly loved you.”
Malewezi, who was the vice-president between 1994 and 2004, died on April 17, aged 77.
President Lazarus Chakwera led thousands of Malawians and foreign dignitaries at the funeral at Likuni Boys Secondary School ground, where other officials included former presidents Joyce Banda and Bakili Muluzi, who appointed Malewezi, King of the Chewa, Gawa Undi, Vice-President Saulos Chilima, Speaker of Parliament Catherine Gotani-Hara and Leader of Opposition Kondwani Nankhumwa.
In his eulogy, Chakwera said Malewezi’s death was a great loss, while describing him as a great mentor who helped shape his political career.
“I have known him for a long time. When I had just joined politics, he invited me for counselling, where he told me about his life history. Every time, I needed advice I would always come to Likuni to seek wisdom because he was a fountain of knowledge.
Gawa Undi hailed Malewezi for uniting members of the Chewa tribe through the formation of the Chewa Heritage Foundation (Chefo). He was the organisation’s chairperson for eight years.
“When I visited Malawi in 2005 I noticed that many Chewa people did not seem to have interest in promoting their cultural heritage… Upon this realisation, I asked Dr Malewezi what we could do to promote the Chewa culture. He came up with the idea of forming the foundation…this was the birth of the foundation,” he said.
“This is the person we are putting to rest today. He has left a big vacuum that is difficult to fill. He was a humble man who always worked to bring people together.”
In his homage, Malewezi’ son Justin Malewezi Junior praised him as a wonderful father who always loved his family.
“Dad was a great teacher. He taught a lot of people. He inspired me to specialise in education… Dad and mum would get all of us to sit down around the fire and used to distribute sugarcanes to all of us. He would do it while telling us stories and singing songs he composed. He was a wonderful father and now he is gone,” he said.
Before joining politics to challenge the Malawi Congress Party dictatorial rule, Malewezi, who was laid to rest in Likuni, Lilongwe under full military honours, worked in the Civil Service as a teacher and later chief education officer. He also served as Secretary to the Treasury and permanent secretary in various ministries.