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Mr Gwanda Chakuamba (2003)

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Thursday, June 22, 2006

Death of a democrat?
by Bright Molande, 22 June 2006 - 04:45:44
It was from the darkening sky of 14 June that he came. Just on the day we cry Long Live Genuine Democracy, Chakufwa Chihana was landed after a long flight of his soul. Cry, the beloved Chihana.
He was first to openly cast a stone against dictatorship as an individual. Now dead, Long Live Democracy! He was an epic hero, once though.
While Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda was still a dictator, Chihana landed at Kamuzu International Airport in the dust of the storm of change and opened the Pandora’s Box. Change was here and no-one could stop it. Even vendors of the holy weed crawled out in white robes and sheep skins to preach democracy.
Chihana briefly appeared from the clouds and soon disappeared in the dust of the storm of prison life. Only his two fingers rudely remain in our memory, pointing at the path to our destiny.
But his voice was a little match that ignited the roaring fire that leapt and advanced to devour the ruling crocodiles and jackals that wagged their tails around Kamuzu Banda. They charged back, threatening to devour the preachers of our salvation. Kamuzu said “not in my name”.
He whose voice echoed from Sapitwa to Nyika, “If I should die, my blood will be the fuel of democracy,” today, his death speaks of freedom better than his precious life.
Alone, he braved trials of the times behind the prison bars of crocodile jaws while the Alliance for Democracy (Aford), the pressure group he led, caught the fire of change and roared across the nation. Even sceptical professors jumped in and sang, “Onward Malawian Soldiers, Marching as to Freedom.” It was a national cause.
But, “Chihana came out of prison only to pack Aford back to kuthengere, digging its political bunker which has turned out to be its grave in the North,” a well informed analytical journalist at The Nation now laments.
He became too wiser than his people. He forgot, no man is greater than his people. Aford was buried in the North, buried with the cherished dream of dragging the North to the centre without thinking nationally. Shame!
Politically, Chihana lived the life of the dead long before his physical death. “Only Chihana and his daughter-in-law make Aford,” shall be the last of the leading headlines celebrating his political career. The corrosive disillusionment caused by Messiah still haunts our political nightmares.
Former President Bakili Muluzi the (other) Father of Democracy dragged Chihana around like a kid puppet while he flowed downstream like a lifeless fish that could no longer swim upstream. And when Lucius Banda mourned in his song that “All he knows is just how to follow,” we knew the political stamina to lead was long lost in political power.
And Muluzi mocked him, “some of these parties will end like curtains.” Chakufwa the Democrat picked up the wisdom and tore his party with his own hands.
The democrat set out and retreated to Sapitwa—out of reach in his blind quest to become a god, now all gone and dead. As we bury the remains of this freedom fighter, will his disciples really bury his spirit?
But Chihana deserved a state funeral, buried in a stately casket and not a coffin (although a “casket” is only American English while “coffin” is British English for the same thing we call bokosi). That must not speak of his social status but of what he was, once.
He remains a man who truly fought for change. And, he served our bellies as a Vice-President as well in the fog of Muluzi’s democratic reign. Chihana’s political death was a national tragedy while his physical demise is only a sad end of an era, the tragic end of a life. He must be remembered and “mourned well” either way.
Once, Chihana was a national hero. Times have been when he was cut out for a Hero’s Acre. And when a friend sends me a text message wondering, “mourning a villain?” That disturbs me.
But then, even villains must be mourned without tears. To jeer at the dead is to be worse than a heartless villain. This hero who died twice needs a well of tears from the springs of our cracked hearts.
After all, Chihana’s political death is a tragedy many of our politicians are bound to go if they are not seeing and living a vision of the changing times. We will bury them without our tears, lest we should sprout a curse of democracy on their mounds.
But a messiah who came to fight a lion with two fingers on our behalf cannot be a villain. He must have meant well, once, but tripped in the fog of power lust.
Chihana is a hero who only forgot us and sought himself in the foggy jungle of power where no self-seeker ever returns. When he fell, we all fell and broke the backbone of the nation. We are still recovering.
While death is the loneliest footpath of the soul, Chihana’s political death was a collective steep slippery road of our country. He came with the political stamina to forbid Muluzi from doing the worst he has done to his people. He heroically faced the roaring lion and all his hungry cubs anyway.
But perhaps, Chihana and Muluzi were only best as freedom fighters. The country still needed one measuring to intellectual stature of Dr Banda and President Bingu wa Mutharika to “see a vision” and mobilise us to “live the vision”.
It appears, though, that Chihana walked out of the prison spell with his own Gweru colour dreams. They soon became political hallucinations that must have haunted him to his deathbed. Just like Muluzi, he saw no vision and therefore lived no vision.
It is the death of Chihana the hero that I therefore mourn. He came as a political messiah and died even thus and thus.
His political death dug social graves for underdogs in the squalor of poverty who can only welcome all such self-seeking politicians with greetings of the dead:
The grave you dug below is all astir
to meet you at your coming;
Rousing the spirits of the departed
to greet you—and

You will find us waiting here
Playing chess among the dead
Calculating how you missed
A grand move of a life chance
And when you descend, first—
Shaking skeletal hands of the dying
Hugging creaking naked skeletons
Wondering how you mounted
Your Gweru dreams for power greed
And sold your soul to power!

O, how the mighty are fallen!
How the mighty are fallen!

—The author is a poet, literature scholar and social critic from the University of Malawi, Chancellor College
—Feedback: amolande@chanco.unima.mw

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