Now, they say when your friends are facing problems, the best you can do is to commiserate with them and we, Malawians, have remained true to those words by sparing a thought for those in trouble. However, developments at the Malawi mission in Pretoria and Johannesburg last week would give one reason to, if we are to use Julius Caesar’s expression, ‘spurn thee like a cur out of my way’ and instead, throw a celebratory jibe after our ‘distinguished’ representatives in South Africa were declared persona non grata (unwelcomed person) for their shameful acts of reselling in that country alcohol which they had bought duty-free, courtesy of their diplomatic status. Do forgive me, I should have started this entry right from where I was supposed to but emotions seem to have gotten in the way…So, let us take it from the top as my plan was to begin by quoting some scriptures from the Holy Bible:
It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine; nor for princes strong drink: Lest they drink, and forget the law, and pervert the judgment of any of the afflicted. (Proverbs 31:4-7, King James Version).
Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish, and wine unto those that be of heavy hearts. Let him drink, and forget his poverty, and remember his misery no more. (Proverbs 31:6-7).
Here we are, with two carefully selected words of wisdom which ought to have been at the back of the minds of our representatives at the Malawi Mission in Pretoria and Johannesburg but, somehow, it did not occur to them that we profess to be a God-fearing nation, hence could not give a whiff about what some scriptures say. Why am I sounding all religious and toying around with Bible verses to do with alcohol, you say? Well, it is all simple and plain to see that our ‘chased’ envoys did the country a great injustice by forgetting their mission and getting entangled in the alcohol scheme. In case you have not been following current affairs, let me quickly bring you up to speed:
South Africa’s Department of International Relations had on Thursday and Friday last week given some diplomats, including those from our beloved country, 72 hours to leave after they were found guilty of engaging in illicit trade of duty-free alcohol, which they had been acquiring as part of their diplomatic privileges. Initially, the duty-free alcohol ring was said to be run by diplomats from Lesotho who, when they had been confronted back in 2020, tried to justify the act by allegedly saying they were making up for the shortages in our salaries. Soon, an intensive investigation by the authorities in South Africa would bare it all; leading to our Malawian diplomatic staff and those from Burundi and Ghana all getting in the mix. Now, if you would permit me, another interlude from the Holy scriptures would suffice:
Galatians 5:19–21: The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: … drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Ephesians 5:18: Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery.
I bet this runs parallel to the beliefs held by our dear ‘chased’ diplomats, who I presume went by Mark Twain’s quote which says “too much of anything is bad, but too much good whiskey is barely enough.”
Again to borrow from the good book, beginning with Ecclesiastes 8:15: Then I commended mirth, because a man hath no better thing under the sun, than to eat, and to drink, and to be merry and Isaiah 22:13 goes Let us eat and drink; for tomorrow we shall die.
To sum it all up, there is nothing wrong in alcohol itself but the problem comes in when it begins to blur one’s reasoning, and, in this particular matter, we are not saying our ‘distinguished’ diplomats were under the influence but rather their entanglement with the hard liquor business has done more harm than good to the country as a whole. It is very shameful that they have put a dent on the country’s great reputation, which was recently highlighted by the peaceful transition and triumph in court that led to the holding of a fresh presidential election.
I do sympathise with President Lazarus Chakwera and Vice President Saulos Chilima; and, indeed, those brave five judges of the Constitutional Court as the fresh stupendous image they had earned for Malawi has somehow been soiled by this man-made ‘alcoholic’ disaster at the Malawi Mission in Pretoria and Johannesburg.
As has already been argued by others, the government too should take the flack for dragging its foot in recalling the staff at the embassy. It is also high time we started thoroughly scrutinising the calibre of people that are deployed to diplomatic missions if such shameful episodes are to be avoided in future.
Too much of anything is bad.
Stephen Dakalira is a seasoned Journalist who works as Times Group’s Online and Digital Executive Editor. He is also the Assistant Editor of The Sunday Times Newspaper, and author of Full Circle column which appears in Malawi News; all of these under the Times Group stable.
He has previously worked in key positions for some of Malawi’s key media institutions such as Malawi News Agency, Capital FM Radio and Star Radio (Now Timveni Radio).