The Nkhoma Synod of the CCAP owes its origin to Reverends P. Vlock and A. Murrary who started missionary work at Mvera in Dowa in 1889. A few years later, Rev Robert Blake arrived at Mvera and was charged with the responsibility of founding another mission station away from Mvera. In 1894, he established a mission station at Msitu wa Nthulu on the foot of Kongwe Mountain.
He called it Kongwe Mission. The station was birthed amid several birth pangs. In his book Msyamboza, Samuel Nthara reports that Chief Msakambewa, a Ngoni, several times threatened to stab Blake and grab his daughter to become one of his many wives.
Kongwe Mission comprised a church and a school. The school grew to become an English Grade School. Pupils from other minor schools would, after completing their standard 3, come to Kongwe for further education. After Kongwe, pupils were ready to take up employment as teachers, pastors, police officers or civil servants. Some of the people that attended Kongwe school in the 1940s were The Very Reverend Dr. Killion Mgawi (first Malawian General Secretary for Nkhoma Synod), Mac J Kamwana (first Malawian Inspector General of Police), Rev Yeremiah Chienda (Mgawi’s successor and first Malawian Executive Secretary of the Bible Society) and Mr J. H.L. Honde (first Malawian Principal of Lilongwe Teacher Training College).
In the late 1950s, a project commenced to construct Robert Blake Secondary School at Kongwe. It opened around 1960. In its heyday, the school was a centre of academic excellence in the whole of Central Africa. In 1970, the school was closed for political reasons. Some student desecrated President Banda’s portrait by drilling holes through the eyes of and writing below it, “You are a great fool.” It is anybody’s guess what would have followed such open defiance.
Walter Brown states in his PhD thesis (presented to Stellenbosch University in 2005) that 10 students were expelled, some local staff dismissed and the missionary staff redeployed elsewhere. He states further that on 23rd July, 1970 the Nkhoma Synod General Secretary, Chienda and synod leaders met officials from the Ministry of Education, who insisted that Nkhoma Synod should deploy Gideon Retief to Kongwe if they wanted the school to reopen. Retief, the then Principal of William Murray Teacher Training College at Nkhoma, was a strong disciplinarian.
Retief presided over some of the most glorious years of Robert Blake. During his years, the school was second to none in university selection, drama and quiz. For some years it was the only public school in the country offering Additional Mathematics. In the 1970s, two students, the late Spencer Chunga and Hodges Kalikwembe, wrote a play titled That Man is Evil which Professor Steve Chimombo subsequently included in his anthology of Malawian plays. It was the only entry from outside Chancellor College.
Robert Blake Secondary School has produced a string of first-class citizens such as former vice-president Justin Malewezi, musician Wambali Mkandawire, Professor Kings Phiri, writers Alfred Msadala and Shadreck Chikoti plus hosts of other proffessionals.
That is as far as the good news goes. The sour news is that Robert Blake has now hit ground zero. Its infrastructure is dilapidated, nay a pitiable ramshackle. Its academic performance is contemptible, to say the least. It is for this reason that the old boys of the school are planning to hold a number of fundraising events to generate some money that can be ploughed back to the school so that it gets a facelift and continue to be a major contributor to the development of this country. Like in the days of Rev Robert Blake, every Kongwe alumnus must be gripped with birth pangs to give birth to a new Robert Blake School. n