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Celebrating a great writer

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By Sam Banda Jnr:

GREAT MAN—DD Phiri

Sunday the country woke up to news that renowned writer Desmond Dudwa Phiri, popularly known as DD Phiri, was no more. He died in the early hours of yesterday at Mwaiwathu Hospital in Blantyre.

DD Phiri was no ordinary person in the world of writing in the country and Malawi Writers Union (Mawu) President, Sambalikagwa Mvona, said the nation had lost a great man.

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“We have lost a great man who had all the answers in a lot of areas. He inspired a lot of writers because he had a combination of writing and history,” Mvona said.

He said DD Phiri was, until his death, Mawu chairperson and his last writer’s body’s assignment was during the Mawu/First Capital Bank Short Story Awards where he was the guest of honour.

Last year, DD Phiri also read out one of his works at Jacaranda Cultural Centre in Blantyre during the storytelling session where he used an old fashioned style, simply speaking to the audience, with his notes used only as a form of assistance.

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In September 2017, JCC and Maison de la France in Blantyre had a special time celebrating the life and works of this renowned author, historian and economist.

The celebrations on the day could have done better in attracting more people, looking at the calibre of the veteran author but those who made it enjoyed the outing.

The event started with an exhibition before performances that featured, among others, Dikamawoko Arts, which performed one of the traditional dances known as Ingoma, which forced DD Phiri to join and show his dance moves.

The only difference was that Dikamawoko Arts dancers were in Ngoni regalia while DD Phiri was in a suit.

But DD Phiri did not mind that; for him, this was his favourite traditional dance and, so, he could not afford not to join.

And while the dancers had shields known in vernacular as chishango and a bow, DD Phiri used an umbrella in dancing.

What a special moment for the legendary author, whose life and works were being celebrated while he was still alive, an indication that his works are valued.

In the country, one of the diseases is that legends are honoured while they are dead.

This is why his son, Kwame, who is in his 60s and retired, said he was thankful to Jacaranda Cultural Centre, Anglia Bookstore and his twins – Chimwemwe and Chikondi – DD Phiri’s granddaughters for working tirelessly to put up this event.

The veteran writer said preparations for the event were done by the organisers and that he was not involved in anyway.

“It was a surprise. I am a happy person. I am short of words that my granddaughters could partner Anglia Bookstore and Jacaranda Cultural Centre in celebrating my works,” he said.

DD Phiri was even surprised with some of the works which were exhibited, telling his story from family life, education in London, to the present day.

A London University-trained economist and historian, DD Phiri, who had time to speak to the audience on his writing exploits as part of inspiring budding writers, runs ‘DD Phiri Forum’ in The Nation and ‘DD Phiri Insight’ in The Daily Times.

In 1968, DD Phiri’s first book, The Chief’s Bride was published under Evans African plays, an imprint of Evans Brothers Limited.

He published a second play, ‘Let Us Fight For Africa’ in 2007 with Kachere Series.

The veteran author has written six biographies —I See You-Clement Kadalie, Let Us Die For Africa— John Chilembwe, and, under Malawians To Remember—Inkosi Gomani, James Frederick Sangala, Charles Chidongo Chinula and Dunduzu Kaluli Chisiza.

His novel is titled Diniwe in Dreamland and novelettes in indigenous languages include Mankhwala Pa Ntchito, Kanakazi Kayaya, Ku Msika Wa Vyawaka and Ulanda wa Mavunika.

His other books are From Nguni to Ngoni, History of the Tumbuka, History of Malawi to 1915, Hints to Private Students, and What Achievers Teach About Success.

After retiring from the diplomatic service in 1976, DD Phiri established Aggrey Memorial School, with an aim of providing effective and affordable educational courses to many Malawian students unable to study in any other way.

In his article of May 2 1995, DD Phiri explains more about the philosophies of Dr Aggrey after whom his school is named.

Aggrey was a Ghanaian teacher, who lived from 1875 to 1927.

“Whenever Dr Aggrey went in Africa, he found Africans evincing inferiority complexes because of colour of their black skins. He told them that a person should be proud of the colour God had given them,” the writer explains.

He adds: “If he himself died, and God wanted to send him back to earth, he would ask to be sent back darker than he was. Aggrey met young people complaining that their white rulers were denying them opportunities for advancement.”

DD Phiri said Aggrey told them:

“Make use of what you have to get what you want.”

He said Aggrey was preaching self-help and self-reliance, adding that these are vi r tu es which have transformed ordinary persons into geniuses and leaders.

DD Phiri advised budding writers to read and read more if they are to excel in the writing world.

“You can only perfect yourself if you read more books but also read what others write,” he said.

In 2001, he was awarded an honorary PhD from the University of Malawi. And, in 2012, he was awarded with membership to the Executive Club of 23 by Pan African Writers Association.

The veteran author, who also spoke on the country’s history and economics during the celebration, was an avid reader and his favourite piece of art was War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy, following closely to such is The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot.

Phiri was born in Mzimba and he went to Blantyre Secondary School and Livingstonia before moving to England where he studied economics, history and sociology at the London School of Economics

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