‘Rising To The Bottom’: Mafunga Phaiya’s latest output


Once one commits to reading Rising To The Bottom, creative writer-cum-journalist Mafunga Phaiya’s novel, it becomes clear that it is difficult to remain unsullied from politics.

This is because the novel is, in a way, littered with characters whose stories sound too true to be fictitious.

No wonder, Rising To The Bottom won second position in the 2017 National Literary Awards.


That year, former Malawi Writers Union (Mawu) president Sambalikagwa Mvona, creative writer Hoffman Aipira and Professor Pascal Kishindo were the judges.

The winning story came from incumbent Mawu President Chikumbutso Ndaferankhande.

The 171-page novel— which is replete with characters such as Ma Dinkam, Dr Augustus Sadyalunda, Chief Commander Khama, Adam Babangida, Chief Commander Kaferapanjira, Registrar Ekari Somanje, Precious Namanyekhula, Speaker of Parliament Goodwell Kamfuno, Samuel Ndipitabe, Disanker Leo, Dr Oswald Mwaungul, Pope Zangazanga Thyolera, Commander James Kammwamba, Commander Ishmael Amadi, among others—is unerringly about politics.


Apparently, some people have overstayed their welcome in the government, to the extent that they have come to know the system like the palm of their hand.

As such, national elections have become a sham, as those running the State apparatus choose who win.

In this case, it is the ruling party that is favoured.

Those running government machinery are, clearly, trying their level best to keep the opposition at bay; as if politics were some dangerous animal and only those in power have the means of controlling it.

It is against this well established system that opposition leader Augustus Sadyalunda seeks to win voters’ hearts—a toll order under current circumstances.

The 39-chapter novel is, therefore, premised on the machinations of the system versus the opposition.

Ironically, some of the issues that have become engraved in society, such as attacks on people with albinism— who are targeted for their bones— resurface in the novel.

In it, even annual occurrences such as the presentation of the State of the Nation Address (Sona) address take root.

Year in year out, when the leader presents himself to Parliament, the Sona is full of empty rhetoric, making it easy for Sadyalunda to pick scanty flesh out of the speech and leave it only with bones.

Set in Maravi— a country known for nepotism and politics of patronage— the Maravi Young Pioneers become a key player in national politics.

However, the organisation’s plans to help the opposition rig up-coming elections are threatened by Sadyalunda’s uprightness.

The opposition leader— who has become the favourite of those that have become so accustomed to the government that they have started regarding it contemptuously—detests short-cuts and wants to win fair and square.

He is in for a surprise, as the youth have decided to force his hand.

Maybe, one of the shortfalls of the novel is that there is no end to characters’ introduction. Just when one thinks they are well-versed with all characters, up pops another— and another.

Otherwise, the journalist in Phaiya also surfaces every now and then, as he opts for abbreviations other than repetition of long words in the course of the novel. That is why Personal Assistant becomes PA, State of the Nation Address becomes Sona, MYP is for Maravi Young Pioneers, among other things.

In the end, Rising To The Bottom is easy to follow, with its closer-to-life characters, but, for the first-timer to Malawi, they may need some lessons in history.

In terms of diction, it is better than the majority of Malawian novels, which are probably published because the author had ink, paper, perhaps money, and a willing publisher at hand.

In Rising To The Bottom, which became available on the Malawi market three months ago, substance seems to be the selling point.

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