I spent close to 10 years living in Chilinde Township in Lilongwe. That period was memorable and I will refer to these years later in this article. I also spent close to another 10 years in Ndirande. Those years were also an interesting period. Now you are wondering how old am I? Well, I am just a year older than the Vice-President of the Republic of Malawi, the Right Honourable Mr Saulos Klaus Chilima. I was born when Samora Machel was just becoming the president of the Republic of Mozambique.
Growing up in Chilinde afforded me a great opportunity to learn about human behaviours. Those were the days when Chilinde was the boundary between civilisation and serenity of the developing city of Lilongwe. For those of you who know Lilongwe and where Chilinde is, there was no Area 23 then, no Masambabise, no Area 36 and Area 24. What is now Area 23 was Chiuzila Village, T/A Tsabango.
In those days, boys could challenge one another with statements like: “Sungandimenye” meaning, “you can’t beat me” or “you can’t fight against me.” When that happened to you, you had several choices. One option was to keep quiet and walk away. If the aggressor wanted a fight, he would walk towards you threatening you even more.
Another option when you were challenged to fight was to respond back that “sungandimenye”, i.e. “you can’t defeat me either.” This altercation could go on until one of the verbal warriors kept quiet and chickened out defeated, verbally at least.
A third option was facilitated by the onlookers and war mongers. When you told someone “sungandimenye”. The person you threatened either kept quiet or replied that he couldn’t be defeated. As both of you thought through whether it was worth it to fight or not the war mongers who had all along been salivating to see a good fight would come in with a solution. Despite being an solution it was something that allowed them to still watch a good fight. The war monger would turn his hands into a shovel, scoop some sand into both of his hands (often it was a he) and then offer these to the fighters-to be. “Phuma!” (why don’t you slap my hand so that the sand falls off to the ground). Scattering the sand from the hand of the war monger was a firm demonstration that you were not afraid of the adversary. So, if you did that, and the adversary chickened out not scattering their sand, there were two consequences. One consequence was that there was not going to be any fight as the biggest and toughest dude was now known in the rest of the neighbourhood. The second option was still that you could give the weaker colleague one slap as a demonstration of total subjugation and domination. But there still would not be a fight.
I am tempted to think that the federalism and secession vote may be a reflection of “phuma, phuma, tichotsane chiwindi.” On the surface, appearing to be problem solvers. n