April 22 2021
Last Saturday, the skies fell on our heads, as former Vice-President Justin Malewezi passed on. He was about to be taken to South Africa for medical treatment after developing bowel complications the previous day.
We have heard it more than once that when wise men pass on to get their eternal rewards, a library burns. And, as the library burned that Saturday, we take solace in the fact that one page from one of its books has survived the scorching fire. From this page, we learn one or two things.
From the eulogies that have flown, it is evident Malewezi was a silent giant. In the civil service is where he rose to become Secretary to the President and Cabinet (SPC) during the Dr Banda one party regime.
He served as Vice-President between 1994 and 2004 and some say he was instrumental in providing proper administration to the United Democratic Front (UDF) government which had just taken over power from the MCP.
Two things come to mind right now. Malewezi’s death comes at a time close to 50 people have been arrested on allegations they may have dipped their fingers in the K6.2 billion Covid-19 basket. As a civil servant, Malewezi is acclaimed to have been a man of integrity. A leaf from his book we all ought to learn from.
The K6.2 billion Covid-19 plunder has shown taints in the civil service. Even worse is the fact that the civil service has been eaten with the cancer of corruption which has led to obscene payments draining the national coffers.
Another thing is that Malewezi’s death comes at a time there appears to be growing animosity between the MCP and UTM Party factions of the Tonse Alliance. Although they seem to be going on the same path in government business, on the political front it would appear President Lazarus Chakwera and his Vice Saulos Chilima are engaging the self-destructive political mode.
History, they say, repeats itself. It appears that politicians have not learned about the tug-of-war that exists between the presidents and their vice. In 2004 Malewezi was the first to face that music when he and others fought President Bakili Muluzi from attaining a third term.
When the open term bid failed, Muluzi roped in Bingu wa Mutharika, sidelining Malewezi and others that may have taken the sword of power. In a seemingly staged executive election for the UDF candidates at the polls, Mutharika got 20 votes, while Malewezi, Harry Thomson and Aleke Banda each got zero votes.
Malewezi quit the UDF to join the People’s Progressive Party (PPM) before he was beaten by Banda for the presidency, leading to his decision to stand as an independent presidential candidate. This decision led to political onslaught, with Muluzi at one time mocking Malewezi for his illness.
Without being seen to let out some skeletons out of some cupboards, the Malewezi reaction to the whole thing exposed the nature of the man. He said nothing.
And when he was asked in 2016, if he and Muluzi were still talking he said yes, but not as before. In Chichewa he said: “Mtanda wa njinga ukathyoka umavuta kuotcherereka.”
This Chichewa proverb brings us to the other dimension of Malewezi. His influence in propagation of the Chewa culture. After quitting politics, he demonstrated there is still life. The Chewa king for Malawi, Zambia and Mozambique Kalonga Gawa Undi asked Malewezi on his retiring to push for an association to promote the culture in Malawi. The result was his becoming the first president of the Chewa Heritage Foundation (Chefo).
When everything is said and done, and Malewezi’s remains are interred in Lilongwe this afternoon, the question that will boggle my mind is: Why did he pull his son Q Malewezi, the poet, from high school to the daunting and grueling life of Likuni Secondary School? He was vice-president of the Republic, why not send him to the elite high schools here and abroad?
In his poem, My Father’s Walk, Q writes: Many times I asked in silence: “Dad, where are you taking us?”/But with time I have learned to trust by listening to his eyes.”
So, he must have been a good father as well. My heart is in the coffin with Malewezi, and I must pose till it comes back to me.