In April 1964, I joined the Nyasaland civil service on transfer from the Tanganyika civil service and was posted to the Ministry of Finance, Zomba. There, I found five trainee administrative officers being groomed to take over positions then occupied by British colonial officials. One of these was called W. B. Thom Mutharika.
I do not recall in what section of the ministry he was working because we were together for only six months. Towards the end of July or the beginning of August, a Cabinet crisis erupted.
All ministers except one challenged the prime minister Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda not to administer Malawi as if it were a private estate.
It was a very tense period for civil servants, some were openly siding with the dissident ministers and were being detained for doing so. Employees of the government press would boo the prime minister as he arrived in his convoy.
Among those government press employees was a tall, light complexioned girl whom Mutharika used to drive home every afternoon.
Rumours began circulating that Mutharikaâ€™s young fiancÃ©e had been placed on the list of those who were to be rounded up. One day, we learned Mutharika had fled to Lusaka with his fiancÃ©e whom he married soon after.
At the beginning of the year 1965, my colleague at the Ministry of Finance Charles Munthali and I accompanied our Minister of Finance Hon John Z.U. Tembo to Lusaka to attend a meeting of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa.
As I sat on a bench in front of a hotel, I saw Mutharika and his wife.
“Why did you leave?” I asked him; “There was no danger.”
He reminded me that I used to arrive at the office with a panga in the boot of my car. Rumours were rife that Young Pioneers from the Nasawa Base were on the way to come and beat civil servants who were pro-dissident ministers. Not that I took sides, but the attitude of the Young Pioneers was “since you are not with us, you are against us.”
A few minutes later, he and his wife went on to have a courtesy call on Tembo. I left the place in order that they should hold the discussion without me eavesdropping on them. As I can remember, they were together for about an hour. That was the last time I saw Mutharika until about 1994.
Muluzi had shaken the streets of Blantyre with his UDF shouting â€˜Tatopa ndi kongeresiâ€™ (We are tired of the Malawi Congress Party). As the first multiparty general elections were approaching, rumours were circulating that MCP was going to raise a legal point and debar Muluzi from standing as a presidential candidate.
Fully authenticated rumours were also circulating that some UDF top men had invited Bingu wa Mutharika in Lusaka to come home as UDF presidential candidate in the event Muluzi could not. Indeed, when he flew to Blantyre and then Lilongwe in 1994, he was hoping to be formally confirmed as presidential candidate. But by that time, thanks to the late Aleke Bandaâ€™s manoeuvres, the hurdles in Muluziâ€™s way had been removed.
When he was installed as president, my dealings with him were purely literary. Through my Member of Parliament, he asked me to translate his chiNyanja pamphlet on principles of small business management into the Tumbuka language.
Later, he called me to the New State House and asked me to read through a huge manuscript on how Africa should be developed.
When the second volume of my History of Malawi was out, I sent him a copy. He must have liked the last chapter of the book, because soon after, he invited me to Sanjika. He told me he was about to review his fiction manuscripts and that he intended to set up a publishing company as a non-profit venture to publish manuscripts by Malawian authors.
On behalf of my colleagues in the Malawi Writers Union (Mawu), I clapped hands to thank him for the splendid plan. His sudden departure from this wretched earth is a blow to Malawian writers, both budding and established.