In my young and tender years, I was so much into Lucius Banda, Tupac, novels and newspapers. I almost got addicted, mostly, to newspapers—of course. The Democrat and Weekend Nation were my favourites.
That is the reason I chanced an article titled ‘When Chihana Coughs, Expect a Whirlwind’. That was in 2001 while in Form One at Chikwina Community Day Secondary School (CDSS) in Nkhata Bay.
By then, Chakufwa Chihana, the departed founder of Alliance for Democracy (Aford), was a political man in the news. He was always a media darling for making selling headlines. If he wasn’t being quoted for speaking contradictions, then he was being caricatured for political prostitution.
So many writings, then, were done to capture Chihana’s political worse. However, no article remains vivid than ‘When Chihana Coughs, Expect a Whirlwind’.
As someone who was so much into novels, I had gotten used to judge a book by its title. A catchy headline, my teacher Mzati Nkolokosa used to underline in my undergraduate days, beckons a reader. I was beckoned by the paradox in ‘When Chihana Coughs, Expect a Whirlwind’.
What I read was nothing new.
But the masterly of the queen’s language in the article, the choice of words, the flowery of its flow and the construction of ideas, not sentences, left me paralysed with sweetness as if I am reading Charles Dickens A Tale of Two Cities.
The author demonstrated he was in control of the language. He showed, not told, the reader how whenever Chihana opened his mouth, something shaky will happen to the political landscape. You could build images, from the article, of the destruction that results from Chihana’s word of mouth.
I cherished the name of the author praying, in my tender years, I would, one brighter day, meet him. That was my dream.
I don’t know about your dreams, but mine came true. I joined Nation Publications Limited (NPL) on March 1 2011. Meeting ‘that author’ was my first preoccupation.
I envisioned a tough looking guy who seldom smiles. What a miss! My author was an elderly, but energetic gentleman, with a mouth full of jokes.
He gave me the first laugh when he joked about my height—by the way I am not tall. By then, the late Edward Chitsulo was the shortest in the newsroom. Upon seeing me, my author took me to Mr Chitsulo’s office and joked ‘now you have your friend, Sir’.
After knocking off he drove to somewhere people go and immerse their senses in liquids. Sipping on my favourite Coca-Cola, my author gave me the first lecture of surviving in the media industry.
“You will not make so much money,” I recall, “but you will be very happy.”
Since then, he was always my mentor—a man to run into not only on journalism issues, but just everything. He is open, frank and he speaks with flair of honesty that it is rare to find.
Here is a man who, after 22 years in journalism, he is still strong, energetic and, let us face it, in robust health.
I have learnt so much about feature writing, headlines, photography and, to cap it all, journalism from him.
Unfortunately, journalism has a good way of destroying great writers. The moment he was moved from frontline writing to editing, everything ground to a halt. He was nailed to the desk editing and rewriting stories. It was quite an unpleasant situation for such a great writer.
On Thursday this week, I saw him in the newsroom shedding a tear. As he spoke in trembles, saying goodbye, there was an emotional feeling in all us that we are losing a father, a friend, a comforter, an editor, a writer who has inspired so many in this profession.
As he travels to his retirement home in Mzuzu, he leaves behind a gap that, I shudder to think, none will ever fill.
On this note, I wish you well Joseph-Claude Simwaka. As you promised, please continue writing and inspiring us.
Newsroom will miss you Chibo Cha Phere.