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Flag of honour

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“Some birds are not meant to be caged, that’s all. Their feathers are too bright, their songs too sweet and wild. So you let them go, or when you open the cage to feed them they somehow fly out past you. And the part of you that knows it was wrong to imprison them in the first place rejoices, but still, the place where you live is that much more drab and empty for their departure.” — Stephen King, Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption

If you noticed, Maxon Mbendera had a regal gait. He walked with calculated steps as if he had already marked where and when his feet would next land. He did not bother the earth with some careless tread. He was soft and mellow, spit and polish.

Before the 2014 tripartite elections, Mbendera was to me a figure that only existed on the pages of newspapers or in the bites and visuals of radio and television. Later, I got to know the big man in so many ways. From Mbendera, I first learned that you do not need to be puffed up so the world should know how good you are.

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Mbendera cut a modest figure and you could easily tell that this was really a man who knew that his eminence was commissioned. Despite being such a huge influence to many people, Mbendera never pretended to be superhuman. He could easily let out his emotions for the world to see just as he could never sag an iota of his resolve. Most of us will remember Mbendera for the 2014 tripartite elections. While announcing the results of the elections, Mbendera broke into tears and, up to now, most people are still probing the truth beneath those tears. Journalist Rex Chikoko, I think, attempted to know why Mbendera cried on the night elections results were declared. Mbendera explained that he could not help but shed a tear after noticing that while people were celebrating “winning” the polls, elsewhere a family was in tears after losing one of its members in the electoral mayhem.

He presided over one of the toughest and tightest elections in recorded time. But the way he handled things, one would think it was child’s play. While people were running helter-skelter during the polls, Mbendera carried the nation’s burden on his shoulders. He chose to suffer on behalf of so many Malawians.

I remember Mbendera for so many things. One of them is how beautifully he handled nomination ceremonies for the 2014 presidential candidates. His speeches will forever resonate with an insistent resonance in the ears of my memory. I remember clearly that he always reminded candidates that much as they all wanted to win the polls, they should accept that there would only be one winner. Ultimately, the winner, he said, had to be Malawi.

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He had an excellent command of English. Charles Mpaka says Mbendera measured every word that passed through his mouth. I agree. Because, when he spoke you just had to stand still and listen attentively. One beautiful thing about Mbendera is that he easily wowed people with his expressions. He spoke from the deepest nook of his heart, and that is why whichever language he spoke in, the message was easily relayed.

Mbendera belonged to a class of guys I admire when it comes to using their mouths. These are Hetherwick Ntaba, Lazarus Chakwera, Alfred Mtenje, Zimani Kadzamira. People who, when they speak in English, tempt you to think no Chichewa word has ever passed though their lips. But when they speak in Chichewa you would think they do not know a syllable of English.

Mbendera was a good man. I have read a number of stories from people who knew Maxon Mbendera the person, and all I can read is that he was a man who came to beautify the earth and clam every violent spirit that lurked in people. He was a gentleman from head to toe. He was a man who let butterflies merrily float on the hairs of his emotions.

If you ask me why Maxon Mbendera had to leave this early and so suddenly, I will again quote Stephen King that: “Some birds are not meant to be caged, that’s all. Their feathers are too bright, their songs too sweet and wild. So you let them go, or when you open the cage to feed them they somehow fly out past you. And the part of you that knows it was wrong to imprison them in the first place rejoices, but still, the place where you live is that much more drab and empty for their departure.”

That Mbendera boy was just too good for us: He was and will remain our flag of honour.

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