Patricia Kaliati the antagonist


Like a typical antagonist in a short story, Culture Minister, Patricia Kaliati, on Saturday spoiled the fun for the main act— namely, the Malawi Writers Union (Mawu)/FMB Awards presentation ceremony— held in Blantyre.

Mawu, playing the protagonist, had scripted the K1 million-worth event so well that, according to the script of things, invited guests were supposed to arrive at 1 pm, followed by warm-up poetry performances at 1; 25 pm, and arrival of the guest of honour, Kaliati, at 1: 40 pm.

It was never to be! And it was a jab in the eye of government’s public service reforms rhetoric. Of late, the government has been singing of reforms and, in line with the tune, Vice President Saulos Chilima— who is spearheading the reforms from the top — has been leading the way, and often arrives at public functions on time.


But if Kaliati’s late-coming is anything to go by, there must be problems with the public reforms. It seems that the reforms have ignored decades of history littered with such culturally ‘acceptable’ embarrassments as late-coming to public functions, hand-clapping for public officials who have to be scolded, among others.

The conduct of public officials has hardly resembled the tableau of simple, humble, time-conscious bliss it was supposed to be like.

The problem is that, even when the public officials subtly apologise, stakeholders’ never real escape the impact of such conduct on their lives, and this was the case in Blantyre.


And Kaliati, on her part, showed no sign of being heartily ashamed of her late-coming.

“My apologies for coming late. I was at a funeral. I was about to say, ‘Please, I am tired. I have been here in Blantyre since Thursday. Yesterday we were in the village,” Kaliati said, referring to the burial of Roads Authority board chairperson.

It was one of those smart and snappy answers to murmuring.

However, the minister baffled the participants with her characteristic and perfectly aimed irony, joking, over and over again, about the Chief Judge Hoffman Aipira’s slip of the tongue earlier on.

Aipira, while explaining the criteria used in selecting the winners and the amount of money due to the first, second and third-best short story writers, forgot that this was a Malawi kwacha and put the figures 250, 000 and 80, 000 in Pounds.

And Kaliati had to repeat her joke, which entailed mentioning the prizes in pounds, over three times and, every time, a large part of the audience laughed; and Kaliati laughed, too— forgetting the pain she had inflicted on creative writers, some of them had to travel from as far as Zomba, Mangochi, Lilongwe, by keeping them waiting from 1 pm to 05: 15 pm. It was quite an act but, then, that is what an antagonist is supposed to do in a typical short story.

It was the most visible indicator of the waves of some Cabinet ministers’ comic sense: Irritate the protagonist, if need be; get into the main character’s fingers, if you can!

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