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Open Perspective: Steve Chimombo- constant as the Northern Star

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Steve Chimombo is gone. Yes, never to be heard from again except for the printed words he leaves behind Quite fittingly, glorious odes, tributes and farewells have been constructed. Priceless words projecting honest feelings, genuine emotional pains and tearful prayers have beenshared.

I am with all of you who took time to express the impact of Steve’s departing. It was sudden, untimely and devastating to people of open hearts who knew this literary demagogue.

Yes, Steve was a colossus in matters literature, writing and teaching. Through ‘the created word’ and pushed on by the attractions of cultural history, Steve matured into a tenacious commentator on the fears, miseries, yet hopes of Malawians through obscure mythologies.

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It’s all fate and destiny isn’t’ it?

I am not sure about coincidence: But if like me you entered the corridors of Chancellor College via the Department of English in the 70s, 80s and 90s you were destined to meet face to face with two of the most enigmatic academics in the history of Chancellor College in the persons of Steve and Moira Chimombo.

I will forever remember Steve and Moira as a formidable duo joined both in holy matrimony and in a steadfast drive, commitment and search for excellence in their academic work.

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For over 30 years these two five-star academics buttressed the English Department, Steve in literature and Moira in language.

Yes that formidable duet is broken by the immutable fate of human mortality, but the legacy will and must live on Steve was a culturally inspired writer who kept Malawi’s oral literature and mythology alive in poetry, drama and historical narrative while at the same time cataloguing the arts of the country otherwise carelessly left to slow evolutionary demise He understood the political terrain he walked on well and evolved rather personal cryptic ways of tackling the sensitivities of peace and political freedom to avoid ‘writing troubles’ associated with the wild dictatorship of his times.

I am sure that this intensely private style was not Steve’s way of choreographing Malawi’s experience – ancient present or future. But as master of circumstances, Steve transported his mind into forms of relay so dense yet suited to preserving a cultural heritage threatened with oblivion.

What do I learn from Steve Bernard Miles Chimombo? Steve worked at home, for people at home and abroad and projected talents of his own Land throughout a 70 year long life.

Asked why he did not take a job outside Malawi another dedicated son of this Land Professor Brown Chimphamba said, ‘I believe that the best contribution one makes is the contribution one makes in one’s country.’

Steve Chimombo just proved it was perfectly possible and just as rewarding!

As a teacher, researcher and writer, he set high standards for himself and for the kaleidoscope of students he taught. To Steve, teaching was not about earning a living, much as it is vital for livelihood – it was a duty to be fulfilled with joyful commitment.

This is an academic who put strong faith in original thinking and always loved to hear his students present their own thoughts about issues. University education was not about reading books, it was about ‘using books to become independent in thought’ Steve used to say, repeatedly.

I understand him very well now as the lack of thinkers deepens and mediocrity abounds.

He loved critical, creative thinking and quite easily became the fulcrum of a vibrant Writers’ Workshop and poetry recital sessionsat Chancellor College, along with fellow giants like Jack Mpanje and Felix Munthali.

Sad today we talk of teaching ‘critical thinking’ in schools; in Malawi’s golden times all dynamics of University learning ‘pointed to the critical and creative’ for all who cared to learn. And Steve was of master of critical, even rebellious thinking.

He saw a writing opportunity in everything. While I led the strategic response to HIV and Aids in early 2000s Steve once called saying ‘Roy, where do you fit writers like myself in this whole challenge?’ and along with Moira, he proceeded to write various articles which informed both Malawians and travellers.

In retirement, Steve launched Writers Advisory Services International or popularly WASI – a first in Malawi – which became an authoritative source of information about the arts in the country.

In Steve you see commitment to a defined path.He had elected to beat an Afro-centric path in his research and writing and pursued his choice with ruthless constancy over decades.

He invested his energies and faculties into researching human experiences and occurrences seemingly mundane to many but most critical to preserving culture and tradition.

Such is the lesson for those who lack passion, purpose and focus! Himself a workaholic, critical thinker and intensely independent minded, Steve enjoyed a long hearty laugh; was highly sociable and incredibly easy to relate with. Here was a serious world class academic yet perfectly human; exposed to the same vulnerabilities as all humanoids What can those who care about legacy do? Immortalise Steve Chimombo.

Yes, Malawianswill do well to keep alive the writings of Steve Chimombo, and there’s nobody better suited for this than those of us who went through the hands of this great potter.

Thanks to Smith Likongwe, Mufunanji Magalasi and the potter’s own son Zangaphee for the promise to keep the Legend alive. In any case we are sustaining Malawi’s literary legacy, going beyond the creator.

Two other possibilities can be pursued: the first to institute an annual Steve Chimombo Memorial Lecture fitted into national, regional and international literary events.

The second, I propose the launch of a Steve Chimombo Prize in African Literature.

These are priceless investments that will keep not just the Steve Chimombo legacy, but institutionalise a practice that recognises, preserves, and ultimately immortalises Malawi’s own icons.

Fare thee well Steve Chimombo.

You were the ‘master rainmaker’ departed amid rain and water which so much dominated your view of the world.

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