So when my children were growing up and I used to tell them my first new pair of shoes were bought for me when I came top of the class in Standard 6, they thought I was telling them some kind of fairy tale.
Yes, before that the shoes I wore were hand-me-downs from my elder brothers. Fact. St. Pius Boys Primary School and Zingwangwa Primary School will bear witness to that.
Before we get twisted and start thinking that I came from a poor family, let me rule that out right now. There were families much poorer than ours. Just that my parents were civil servants of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. In Kamuzu times, there were no fat allowances, no kusolola or kupakula.
For the record, they did own cars; a Ford Escort, then a Ford Cortina, even a Volvo after retirement and a Volvo that I used to take in my girlfriend, now wife, to the drive-in cinema. My children never experienced the drive-in cinema life in Malawi. Gone.
Why am I bringing this up? Because I want to take stock and reminisce on some of the nostalgic moments that have gone past, apart from the drive-in cinemas.
We stayed fit because we walked to school every day. Even when parents had a car.
Our schools had a robust physical education regime, complete with trainers, some from the (in) famous Malawi Young Pioneers.
We were taught to spell ‘straight’ the correct way, not str8. We were taught to understand the difference between ‘there’ and ‘their’ and ‘they are.”
We took chimanga chobviika and thobwa to school as a break time snack. We were taught to be proud of what we have, respect other people’s property, respect our parents and the elderly in general, and not to litter our surroundings. We were taught health and civic education at a young age.
The government on its part delivered services; electricity, water, garbage collection by city councils rolled like clockwork—not the new battery operated clocks that stop.
Public primary schools had amenities like desks that had inkwells and nib pens supplied by government. All books and other learning materials were supplied within the fees paid. No need for parents to shell out more money for this.
The Blantyre Youth Centre (BYC) was a beehive of sporting activities for the youth. We got vaccinated, yes, but not at BYC.
We had professionals at Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) such as Lucius Chikuni, Henry Chirwa, to name just two, who through programmes like Top of the Class and It’s Teen Beat on MBC made our growing up lives an absolute pleasure.
Secondary schools, even government ones, had athletics, like most of what we are now watching at the Olympics. Track events, pole vault, high jump, football, netball, basketball, volleyball, shot put, discus throwing, javelin, chess, table tennis, etc. Nowadays we send to the Olympics more officials than athletes.
There was no likasa, nor leakage of examinations. You passed well through studying hard. You got brand new shoes for passing because you genuinely deserved them. What good is a parent who rewards a child with a car when the child has cheated through the exam?
Integrity and hard work were the keys to success. We were taught to go far with education. Further than our parents so we can in future take over the Namiwawas of those days. Politics, tender-preneurship and corrupt procurement were not careers (are they?) as attractive as they now are.
Whenever roads got paved, they got properly done. When they got damaged, they got fixed. The suburbs of Chapima Heights and New Naperi came long after Namiwawa, Nyambadwe, Sunnyside and Mount Pleasant. Check the roads now and you will be forgiven for thinking that vice-versa is the case.
We had safe public transport; buses, trains, regulated taxis. Now it is mdulamoyo minibuses, kabazas with no crash helmets, 7-9 passenger Sientas etc. Tragic!
We learned that pedestrians walk on pavements. Nowadays pavements are for street vending and pedestrians compete with cars on the main road.
I could go on and on.
Folks, we have sunk so deep into the morass of mediocrity that we need redemption. That redemption will not only come from politicians. No. Neither will it come from your prophet nor pastor. You should be prepared to play your role and join this redemption brigade. Every Malawian has a duty to stop this rot. (I learned about my rights and duties in a civics class in primary school, by the way. When did you?) This goes especially for you, the, young ones reading this. Roll up your sleeves. Be the change that you wish for. Talk is cheap. Do something positive in the space that you control, and remind others to do the same.
God bless Malawi. n
*Chris Kapanga is a chartered insurer and former group CEO for Old Mutual Malawi. He also served as founding CEO for Old Mutual operations in Ghana and Nigeria.