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Thoughts of Du Chisiza Senior

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Someone is looking for Amos Tutuola’s Palm-Wine Drinkard but I cannot trace the copy I have kept for several years. Someone must have thrown it away.

Tutuola is not Malawian but, still, we are not good at preserving our own Malawian literature. A lot of literature in Malawi has been lost because our storage system is yet to embrace modern technology; it is rare to find PDFs of the most-sought after literature. That kind of literature is what we should be sharing on the social media platforms not those nude pictures or “send this message” to your contacts, failing which you will be punished by God. Well, our God is different, the Almighty God.

I have read a chapter by Frank Barton titled Malawi: The President’s Press which chronicles the birth of The Daily Times. “One of the editors (Nyasaland Times) in the early 60s was Donald Trelford, later to become editor of Britain’s Sunday Observer. He recalls that some of his African reporters were straight out of Ben Hecht’s ‘Front Page’. They must have picked up their notion of a journalist’s life-style from bad Chicago films of the 1940s which reached Africa in the 1950s –- hard living, fast-talking types with snap brims worn at the back of the head,’ he remembers. One of the youngsters Trelford took on was Austin M’madi. When Trelford asked him about his qualification, he replied: ‘My mother is Kachasu, Queen of Zingwangwa.’ Kachasu was the local gin, highly potent and highly illicit. Trelford realised that the young man thus came from a family of great influence. He hired him on the spot. As things were to turn out a decade later, it would have been much better for young Austin M’madi if Trelford had sent him back to his mother’s illicit still.”

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I wonder if we still have that Barton’s book in our libraries. I would be equally surprised if our libraries still have Dunduzu Chisiza Senior’s Africa – What Lies Ahead? published in 1962. Somewhere in the British Library in London, the book is intact and I had the chance to appreciate Chisiza’s thoughts.

At the mention of Chisiza, many would think of Du Chisiza Jnr. Not much of the senior Chisiza is talked about by our generation. His dream for Africa, which tackles politics and economics in equal measure, highlights how Africa has been held back by intolerance.

Chisiza Senior writes: “Unhealthy relationship between the ruling party and opposition. This unhealthiness is indicated by such symptoms as intolerance toward opposition parties, a tendency toward strong man governments, indulgence in smear campaigns and political instability.”

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What happened around the 1960s was observed by Chisiza but it seems the modern day politicians would not learn from him. I will be surprised if many of our politicians have read the book too. Chisiza, who was known for his oratory, was a thoughtful individual who is not celebrated much today. Du Chisiza Jnr. paid tribute to his father so many times in his plays; he was clever enough to elude censure.

Chisiza Senior writes on leadership: “The cause to which African leaders are consecrating themselves is noble, their trust is sacred, their problems manifold, their tasks immense. Accordingly, they must be on the lookout against pitfalls which might sabotage their work and plunge their countries into chaos … one of the dangers is the policy of rewarding friends and punishing foes.”

He continues: “An allied danger to the foregoing is that of nepotism … here again we are confronted with favouritism but this time the emphasis of the leaders is on their relatives rather on their party supporters. In this case, uncles, brothers, nephews, cousins, and in-laws are preferred above others in the allocation of offices, not because they are better qualified than other candidates but because they happen to be the relatives of the leaders.”

Chisiza’s thoughts can easily be related to the present. Although many people would only see the politician in him, what I see in his thoughts is Chisiza the artist.

Artists are blessed to foresee the future. Their thoughts warn future generations of things to come and their work is a mirror that reflects the reality of our societies. It is worrisome that we rarely want to preserve that art which comes in the form of Chisiza’s thoughts.

Our undoing is to disregard art and view artists as politicians who are threatening the existence of the leadership. We are slowly losing artists who are capable of foretelling the future.

I believe we could find a way of preserving valuable literature. Chisiza’s thoughts must be read in their entirety. Malawians should read stories of M’madi, too, but that is impossible if we do not preserve our literature. Sadly, such literature is well-preserved in the British Library and we have none.

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