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Gospel Mwalwanda’s three-decade legacy at Mana

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He was born in Malawi, educated in Zambia and came back home to serve in the civil service for about 34 years.

Author of hundreds of published feature articles about events, situations and people, Gospel Mwalwanda’s story was yet to be told.

Mwalwanda has just retired from service at Malawi News Agency (Mana) after working for about 34 years, leaving a legacy of over 500 features to his credit.

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“I retire a very happy person. It has been a long and exciting journey – a journey fueled by passion and commitment to write for a difference,” explained Mwalwanda when he interacted with this reporter the week the great writer was winding up.

Born at Lughali Village, Traditional Authority Kyungu, in Karonga on March 27 1957, Mwalwanda did his Standard One at Lughali Primary School before moving to Livingstone, Zambia, where his father worked as a police officer.

Mwalwanda’s interest in writing was kindled when he was in primary school at Maramba in Livingstone and later at Kanyihamba Primary School when his father was transferred to Mwinilunga, Northwestern Province.

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Mwalwanda senior used to bring home newspapers every day which the young boy could flip through, missing nothing.

Other than getting furnished with current affairs, young Mwalwanda soon fell in love with the art of writing and he wanted to be part of it.

“In the course of reading the newspapers, I was inspired by the features of one of Zambia’s great writers, Samu Zulu. He was just a very good feature writer and his articles were too good to ignore!” Mwalwanda said.

In 1972, he was selected to Kabompo Boys Secondary School where his interest in writing became more pronounced after joining the Current Affairs Club of the school.

The club’s role was to produce the school’s magazine, thus it was incumbent upon the members of the club to source and write news and other articles.

“It was a very exciting exercise. At 13:00 hours every day we used to gather around the school’s radio [set] for the day’s bulletin,” recalled Mwalwanda, now married and a father of six.

“We could then take notes to be developed further into full news items for the magazine which we later pasted on the school’s notice board for everyone to read,” Mwalwanda says.

As he progressed with his studies at Kabompo Secondary School, his written work became so impressive that Mwalwanda remembers to have been nicknamed ‘Jonalee’, slang for ‘journalist’, and at one point a British teacher told him “you write like Charles Dickens”!

All those praises kindled the budding writer’s interest in writing such that, by the time he completed his Form Five studies in 1976, he was determined to venture into his dream career.

But by that time, his father had retired and returned home and between 1974 and 1976 the young Mwalwanda had been spending holidays at his aunt’s home in Kitwe.

Mwalwanda finally came back home to stay in 1977 but the atmosphere he found back home was not favourable to his writing career.

He successfully secured a job – his first job – in 1978 with the Department of Posts and Telecommunications, Engineering Department, in Lilongwe.

Mwalwanda’s new job involved repairing ground telephone gadgets and lines and, being a complete departure from his treasured writing career, he was not happy with it so he resigned in 1982.

But luck came his way when he attended interviews at the Malawi News Agency (Mana) – a section under the Ministry of Information in Chief Kilupula House in Lilongwe.

“I still remember the look of satisfaction that washed over the panelists’ faces when I replied to their question of ‘What is news’,” recalled Mwalwanda.

“Having had no formal journalism training – because there was none offered anywhere in the country then – my basic answer that ‘it is a report of something that has happened’ was more than what they might have expected.”

Mwalwanda was one of the successful candidates and joined Mana on August 25 1983 as Information Assistant and his first duty station was Blantyre, the then headquarters of Mana.

He recalls to have joined fellow newly recruited staff, the likes of Wellington Kuntaja, Lloyd Zawanda, and Grace Kwalapu, among others.

Mwalwanda’s rise to stardom had just begun but, he confessed, it wasn’t a plain sail.

“It was on-job training and the first days you wrote for marking first before you could be considered fit to write for publishing,” explained the now retired features writer.

When he was confirmed fit, Mwalwanda started as a sports reporter and he established himself with the mentoring of the then Deputy Managing Editor, Nelson Magombo, who Mwalwanda recalls as a very “aggressive editor who could leave nothing to chance”.

Mwalwanda also has unspeakable respect for late Sunday Kuwali, who was Managing Editor at the time, and other editors; Green Siyani and Gray Mang’anda.

“These are the hands that molded me with record patience and, without their encouragement and support, I could not have made it this far,” he said.

Over the period, Mwalwanda’s stay with Mana saw him rise to the position of Assistant District Information Officer (ADIO) for Mzimba before he was moved to Central Region Information Office in Lilongwe in 1991, then later to respective districts of Dowa, Nkhotakota and Mangochi as District information Officer (DIO).

All along, he had established himself in the media circles as one of the most prolific feature writers in the country.

It wasn’t until 2001 that late Anthony Livuza, who was then Director of Information (DOI), recommended Mwalwanda to leave his Mangochi DIO post to take up the post of Features Editor at the headquarters in Blantyre before it moved to Lilongwe in mid-2000s.

“I was excited with the recommendation especially because it came from one writer I respected, Anthony Livuza, the first Malawian journalist to win a CNN Award. It was a great honour,” Mwalwanda says.

Over the period he has served Mana, Mwalwanda boasts to have had the privilege of traveling and covering all the presidents, except Dr H. Kamuzu Banda, in various key summits and conferences such as the United Nations General Assembly in New York, Southern African Development Community, Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa and African Union, among others.

It’s not easy for an author of over 500 feature articles to single out a few articles s/he considers the best from the rest – and Mwalwanda is no exception.

He, however, surprised this reporter when he closed his eyes for a while, apparently for a better recollection, then said: “Eric Aniva’s feature story which I wrote in 2006!”

Mwalwanda proudly explained how he stumbled upon Eric Aniva’s cultural sexual empire and the fact that he was the first to bring Aniva’s story out to the public.

“I was tipped off by Amos Mailosi who was then National Aids Commission (Nac)’s Coordinator for Nsanje District and I went there with our photographer, Adaki Pafupi, now working with Parliament,” Mwalwanda says.

The claim was glibly confirmed by Mailosi, now Parliamentarian for Phalombe East, when this reporter sought his comment.

“How can, I forget that article? It was titled ‘Breaking the Silence on Kulowa Kufa ‘and, for your information, it was used by Nac as a case study at a Global Fund Meeting in the US on the factors leading to the increase of HIV/Aids infections in Malawi,” explained Mailosi.

Another feature Mwalwanda recalls is one about a widowed man who had to strap his three-year-old daughter on his back to and from work because there was nobody to look after her.

The other feature, about a woman who recovered from Fistula after battling it for decades, won Mwalwanda a MISA Award.

His stay at Mana over the years had not been without low moments. One of such moments was the demise of Principal Secretary Livuza, to whom Mwalwanda says he will forever be indebted.

Mwalwanda’s stay at Mana for about 34 years when he could have jumped ship to greener pasture is one thing even management at Ministry level applauded him for at his farewell party held on April 28.

“Mwalwanda demonstrated love and passion for his job throughout his stay at Mana which is what we all ought to emulate,” observed Director of Information, Gideon Munthali.

Munthali’s observation was exactly what Mwalwanda shared with this reporter when asked about the recipe for a good and influential features writer.

“Passion, commitment, and hunger for knowledge – read, read, and keep reading,” explained Mwalwanda, whose favourite local authors include Legson Kaira, and Willie Zingani while, on international scene, Mwalwanda’s favourites include Robert Ludlum and Fredrick Forsyth.

He added: “As a journalist and feature writer, you also need to keep all your senses alive and miss nothing around you because good human interest stories are mostly spotted when you are observant,” advised Mwalwanda.

It’s no secret that having worked for over three decades with the Mana family, Mwalwanda bowed out and went off stage with a heavy heart.

However, the renowned outgoing features writer and editor finds comfort in the fact that he has left no vacuum behind for when asked by this reporter, Mwalwanda honestly fingered a few names including another outstanding features writer, MacNeil Kalowekamo, who he believed would keep the features desk running at Mana.

Today, Kalowekano has indeed stepped into retired Mwalwanda’s shoes as new Mana Features Editor.

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