Late Sam Mpasu will be remembered as a politician who remained steadfast on a slippery political ground where his contemporaries slip more often than not, political analysts and politicians observe.
According to a relative Dalitso Chalira, Mpasu was found dead yesterday in his house in Mudi, Blantyre, after succumbing to hypertension complications.
Political and governance commentator Augustine Magolowondo describes Mpasu as a politician whose convictions were on observing democratic principles.
“For example, the attempts he made to block former president Bakili Muluzi’s ministerial appointment while he was Speaker of the National Assembly demonstrated his convictions in the democratic principle of separation of powers,” he argues.
It was this strength of character that led to his rise in the ranks of the United Democratic Front (UDF) and to his becoming Speaker of Parliament. This demonstrates a kind of loyalty and dedication he had to the party that he helped build.
Former state president Muluzi and founding president of the United Democratic Front, also agrees.
He said when he appointed Mpasu in his first Cabinet after the country’s first democratic elections in 1994, he remembers him as a dedicated minister’.
“Mpasu was one of the strong politicians who liked to express his opinions without fear. Perhaps it was this strength of character of not showing fear that landed him in trouble with Dr. [Kamuzu] Banda [Malawi’s founding president],” he joked.
“As education minister, Mpasu worked hard to make sure that free primary school education succeeded despite numerous challenges at the onset,” added Muluzi.
The former president is not far from the truth as Mpasu was not afraid to put his views even in writing, a thing that is hardly done by his contemporaries.
“His publications, Nobody’s Friend (1975), Political Prisoner 3/75 of Dr. H. Kamuzu Banda of Malawi (1995) and The Hare and other Folktales (2015) bear clear testimony to this. He was also a regular contributor to the Malawian Christian Magazine, The Lamp,” explains Magolowondo.
And his long time friend Friday Jumbe describes him as an ardent supporter of democracy who was not swayed by petty politics.
“He was true to his dictates and followed his conscience in everything that he did. He had a strong personality,” he says.
Another analyst from Chancellor College Ernest Thindwa described Mpasu as a mature politician for his generation.
“He never practised politics of name calling or character assassination. He was strong, such that UDF was able to win Ntcheu because of him,” he says.
But perhaps the strength of Mpasu is demonstrated during the time he served as Speaker of Parliament between 1999 and 2003.
According to Davis Katsonga, who was First Deputy Speaker at the time and later succeeded Mpasu, Mpasu presided over Parliament during trying times politically.
“He was impartial and did not succumb to pressure from his party to manipulate the results of the open and third term bills, despite the terrific atmosphere in Parliament that day,” he said in an interview yesterday.
Katsonga’s description of the political atmosphere at a time Mpasu presided over the Open and Third Term Bills is also well-captured in Asbjorn Eidhammer’s book Malawi: A place Apart.
“The issue of the ‘third term’ defined politics during Muluzi’s final years in office. From the districts, political clashes were reported. Bands of Young Democrats attacked and harassed government critics in the media and the churches, some people were beaten,” reads the book in part.
Such was the political tension that engulfed the country but Mpasu steered Parliament well, argues Thindwa.
Unfortunately, for his impartiality in Parliament, he paid dearly after the bills were defeated and Muluzi ‘fired ‘ him as Speaker, appointing him minister of Commerce and Industry instead.
Katsonga himself feels grateful towards Mpasu who mentored him, saying: “I benefitted a lot from him. I used the knowledge he imparted to me when I became Speaker.”
Outside politics, both Jumbe and Muluzi agreed that Mpasu was an amiable person who was humorous.
“He was full of jokes and would continue to talk whenever in a company of friends,” Jumbe says, while Muluzi adds that he [Muluzi] used to call Mpasu by his first name and he would always smile.
Born in 1945, Mpasu was detained at Mikuyu Prison without trial from January 22 1975 to January 10 1977. In 1991 he joined UDF which at the time was an underground organisation, and fought Banda’s dictatorship. He was appointed to the National Referendum Committee.
In 1994, when UDF became the first democratically elected government in the country, Mpasu was elected member of Parliament for Ntcheu Central.
He has served as minister of Education, Science and Technology (1994-95), minister of Health and Population (1995-1996), minister of Information (1997-1999) and minister of Commerce and Industry (2003-2004).
In 2008, he was convicted of corruption over Fieldyork International text book scam of 1994 and sentenced to six years imprisonment. He was released in August 2010 for good conduct.
He joined the New Labour Party in 2012 and became president of the party after Jumbe resigned. n