He was among thousands of jubilant people who packed the then Rangeley Stadium in Blantyre and saw Hastings Kamuzu Banda receive the reins of power from Britain.
As the teenager watched proceedings from one of the open stands on July 6 1964, little did he realise that a rare opportunity would come to him to meet his country’s first president not long after the event.
Almost 45 years have elapsed since Harvey Maseko shook hands with the late Kamuzu Banda at his Sanjika Palace in the country’s commercial city, yet he still cherishes the memory of that day.
But why did Maseko go to the hilltop Sanjika Palace to meet Kamuzu, whom Malawians were in awe the entire period he ruled the country before multiparty politics began to creep in in the early 1990s?
Harvey Julius Kadyole Maseko was born on January 27 1947 and hails from Lidzulu, Ntcheu. He did part of his primary education at Malamulo Mission, Thyolo, where his late father worked as a clergy.
Maseko says after the death of his father in 1961, his family began to face serious financial problems because “our breadwinner and supportive pillar had fallen.”
The situation got so dire that the family was often in want, regularly going without food and also did not have enough clothes. This forced his mother to get a job as a tea picker in a surrounding tea estate.
Meanwhile, amid the untold hardship the family was going through, Maseko started entertaining the idea of leaving the country for Northern Rhodesia, now known as Zambia.
“I wanted to go to Northern Rhodesia because we had a stepbrother there who was working at Chilanga Cement Factory in Lusaka,” Maseko says. “I wanted to escape the woes we were facing.”
He says when his stepbrother came to Malawi to attend his father’s funeral, he not only offered him support but also promised to take him to Zambia on his return.
“Unfortunately, he changed his mind on departure and took with him his sister’s daughter instead,” Maseko recalls. “When I saw his car leave for Zambia, my heart sank and wept as he was my only hope.”
It was then that his late mother decided to send young Harvey to her cousin who lived in Chilomoni Township in Blantyre, who was a bus driver.
Maseko lived in Chilomoni for only two school terms because, in his own words, conditions in the home of his mother’s cousin were tough.
“I then thought of starting off on a journey to an unknown destination in a bid to follow the man who had promised to take me to Zambia but had changed his mind,” he says.
But Maseko went back to Thyolo and during one school holiday, he got a job digging groundnuts in a primary school teacher’s garden. He was paid one pound, 12 shillings and six pence.
Maseko again had to leave for school in Blantyre where an uncle had offered to accommodate him. On departure, his mother gave him five boiled eggs and a cake made from banana for him to eat at school.
When Maseko arrived at Wenela Main Bus Station in Blantyre, something caught his eye before he left for his uncle’s house that made him change his mind abruptly.
“I was surprised to see one bus that was about to leave had a board with the word ‘Salisbury’ written on it as its destination,” says Maseko, who was in his late teens at the time.
Maseko ignorantly thought that since Southern Rhodesia and Northern Rhodesia shared borders, he could just walk from Salisbury to his uncle at Chilanga Cement Factory in Lusaka.
“The bus fare from Blantyre to Salisbury was one pound and 10 shillings,” he says. “Using the money I had earned from digging groundnuts, I paid the fare and boarded the Salisbury-bound bus.”
Meanwhile, back home in Thyolo, Maseko’s mother was in the dark about the new development. To her, the child was lving with an uncle in Blantyre, attending school.
Maseko remembers crossing the Zambezi River at Tete in Mozambique using a ferry boat before they spent a night there.
The next day, they were transferred into a Salisbury United Bus, now called ZUPCO, from Salisbury. The eggs and banana cake his mother had given him were all Maseko ate on his journey to the unknown.
It was at night when Maseko’s bus finally reached its destination, Mbare Bus Station in Salisbury. At day break, all he could see was a foreign land with strange people and a strange language.
“I became a destitute and slept on the floor at the bus station for two weeks,” Maseko says. “I became stranded when I learned that I could not walk to Lusaka from Salisbury.”
One morning while at a post office in the city, Maseko saw a large gathering of people not far from where he was. Upon enquiring, he learnt that it was a new clothing factory that was employing people.
He says he does not know to this day how he was spotted but he saw from where he was standing a white man who he later learnt was the employer beckon him to go to the gates of the factory.
“As there was no passage for me to get to him with the big crowd, he sent his driver to come and take me to the factory. When I entered the factory, the owner served me a cup of tea,” recalls Maseko.
“After I had my tea, I was employed as a garden boy and immediately started working at the factory. When I knocked off, I was escorted to my dwelling room at a hostel. From that day, I began a new life.”
All this time, Maseko’s mother was thinking her son was in Blantyre as Maseko had not yet communicated home to inform her of his whereabouts.
“It was only after she received a parcel of clothing for her and my siblings I had sent that she came to know I had crossed borders and was in Salisbury,” he says.
Maseko later changed jobs when another man from his home country who was living in Salisbury invited him to join a radio manufacturing factory known as WRS (World Radio Service).
“I started working as a packer before I went into all the stages of radio and television manufacturing,” he says, adding that at the same time, he was attending night school to widen his knowledge.
Maseko says: “Unlike my friends who were contented doing one thing at the factory, I wanted to know every aspect to do with electronics.”
When he was able to design radio sets on his own, an idea struck him that he set up his own radio manufacturing company and decided to come back home so that he could bring his plan to fruition.
“I came back home and applied for an industrial licence at the Ministry of Trade and Industry which was in Delamere House [in Blantyre],” says Maseko. “The minister then was Aleke Banda.”
When the licence was approved after he had returned to Salisbury, Maseko began sending home radio and television components he had been buying for five years.
“After I saw that I had sent enough stock for a small radio factory, I finally came back to Malawi on November 2 1972 and started manufacturing radio and record player products,” he says.
The company Maseko established in Bantyre was called Modern Radio Supplies, the second radio manufacturing company in the country after Nzeru Radio Company.
Maseko says before he returned home to set up the radio production company, he designed a combined Radio- Record player and a Reel-to-Reel Tape Recorder for Kamuzu Banda.
“The only person who saw it in its process was Albert Muwalo who was then minister of State and also secretary general of Malawi Congress Party (MCP),” he says.
“It cost me K1,000 after some university students helped me to value it. Accompanying me to present the gift was Alfred Chiwanda who was the Regional minister. This was in October, 1973.”
Maseko says the head of the civil service at the time George Jafu witnessed the presentation of the gift at Sanjika Palace and that, at the ceremony, he was asked to repair and service Kamuzu’s radios.
“I was asked to repair and service some radio sets that Kamuzu had bought from the USA,” he says. “I did the job perfectly. I felt humbly honoured to handle property of the head of State.”
Maseko says Kamuzu Banda was so happy that he reportedly wanted to give him K1,000 as a token of appreciation for the good work he had done but he declined.
“I politely refused to accept the money because it was my gift to him and was not selling,” he says.
Kamuzu then not only offered to help Maseko put up a building in Lilongwe for his business but also expressed his desire to send him to the USA for further training as a radio technician.
But things took a different turn and Maseko, who owned a Mercedes Benz car then, lost contacts with Kamuzu.
Desperate to make contact with the Malawi leader, Maseko says a few years later, he wrote Kamuzu a letter and posted it at Lilongwe Post Office.
“It was a bold move but it yielded results as the letter did reach him,” says the father of nine, some of whom are living in the USA and United Kingdom. “Kamuzu had not forgotten me.”
Maseko says Kamuzu offered him a job of servicing electronic systems and gadgets of his relations at Chamwabvi Estate and at Chiwengo Village in Kasungu through his nephew Fred Kazombo Mwale, where he worked for some time.
Maseko went back to Zimbabwe in 2002 where he runs a small electronics business.
Maseko, who plans to come back home and start another project, has fond memories of meeting Kamuzu for the first time and shaking hands with him.
“That day has been etched on my memory,” says Maseko, 71. “For two weeks, I refused to greet anyone with my right hand after I met Kamuzu because I could hardly believe I had greeted him.”
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