Inside the ending week I had some small engagement with one of the country’s literary greats Alfred Msadala.
Like I do always in my line of duty whenever there is an issue that requires expert reflection, I knock on his ever-open door. He is always ready to pitch in with a few ideas and opinions on the subject matter before him.
If it is your lucky day, he will sign off by inviting you to his office so that you can go and get the latest piece of literature from his vast collection. Such is his affinity to the arts, publishing in particular. Writing and reading is what defines his life.
On this particular day, what sparked our conversation was some interesting thing that I came across. A mural Jacaranda School of Orphans has created and painted at its premises in Chigumula, in Blantyre in honour of the fallen author, historian and publisher DD Phiri.
The gigantic art creation is beautiful. The projection on the wall captured the famous writer in his trademark Wilson hat, an overcoat, black designer tinted sunglasses and a scarf around the neck.
Those of us who had the chance to meet DD Phiri can attest to the fact that those are the fashion accessories that formed part of his unique personality. His spirit should be filled with joy wherever he is for a befitting tribute that he has been accorded by the institution.
I gather the mural is a collaborative effort from Jacaranda students and Otis College of Art and Design who were led by their lecturer David Russel, an expert in the area. From these little details one can deduce that Jacaranda knew exactly what they wanted and the kind of homage to accord the old man.
Now let me go back to the prelude of my entry. My conversation with Msadala bordering on this mural of course. As I talked to him I sensed a feeling of frustration and anger in his tone. At first I thought I had caught him at a wrong hour. Thinking that the fuming in his ejections were misdirected.
After a quick assessment I realised he was angry for real. The gesture of having DD Phiri immortalised at Jacaranda School is something he welcomed. He even expressed his personal gratitude for the effort.
But he is not a happy about one thing: why does it always have to be private citizens and institutions taking the lead to appreciate writers such as DD Phiri? Can’t the State do the same to honour some of the country’s distinguished sons and daughters who have made immerse contributions in this field?
He is angry that the establishment can’t see the merit in making heroes out of writers and any such players from the art industry. He gave an example of the Westminster Abbey in United Kingdom, London which has a poet’s corner where writers are buried.
This is one thing that makes Msadala a very unhappy man. He thinks it doesn’t require much effort to appreciate the contribution of someone. He is convinced Malawi has so many individuals under its wraps which deserve a mention for what they have done. Maybe he is right.
One time I found myself at the Football Association of Malawi’s Mpira Village in Chiwembe. I loved the gesture they did in naming all the rooms and halls after some of the greats that have starred for the Malawi National Team over the years.
They have a conference room named after Sydney Chikafa, rooms named after Kinnah Phiri, Ruben Malora, Bennet Gondwe, Elias Kapangama and Ernest Mtawali among others. As little as it appears, this is a huge honour to these patriots.
It would not hurt to see the faces of Sambalikagwa Mvona, Sam Mpasu, Ken Lipenga, David Rubadiri, Jack Mapanje, Frank Chipasula, Tiyambe Paul Zeleza, Legson Kayira among others appear on the walls of the Blantyre Cultural Centre, which is being refurbished.
That is a perfect way to tell future generations that we had some souls that dedicated their time to nourish our literal needs among us once upon a time. It would be a huge statement to show how we continue to celebrate their contributions. So, somehow I understood Msadala’s anger.