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Mr Gwanda Chakuamba (2003)

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Monday, June 18, 2007

Bingu without his better half
13:44:25 - 15 June 2007

For everything, there is an appointed time. So it was designed that our president would one day become an incomplete man again.

On December 24, 1964 as the young hearts of Bingu wa Mutharika and Ethel Kwaiti married, some unseen hand had already sketched their future together. One of the details scripted in the scroll of their destiny was that they would become a First Family in some poor sub-Saharan nation called Malawi. On May 24, 2004, that came to pass in their advanced ages. It was the climax of their lives.

It had also been chronicled that Ethel Mutharika would be First Lady for three years, three days, fifteen hours and fifteen minutes only for her life would breathe its last.

That has happened. The other half of their common heart has been taken away.

It is that half, Madame Mutharika’s heart, which has thrown most to the depths of grief and sense of loss at her death. All and sundry agree she was the exemplary of modesty, so much that it is only now that we realise she was among us, actively touching lives.

She would have exploited her works of charity and status as mother of 13 million children to strut the world stage like a goddess. But she was wise enough to know it was vainglorious to fashion an acting celebrity out of her kindness and class. So she behaved like an out-of-town woman. She valued to be treated as such.

Joyce Kuthyola-Mwale, wife of Reverend Armstone Kuthyola-Mwale of Lingadzi CCAP where the late Mutharika was congregating interacted with this humility.

“She wanted to become a member (of the Women’s Guild) and we told her that one needed to go through a process, which takes three months to complete and we thought she would be discouraged being a busy woman but she accepted to do it,” Kuthyola-Mwale was quoted in The Daily Times.

“On the day she was to be made a member, we wanted to have her go through the oath taking separately but she refused and told us to include her in the group of other women and she memorised all the words we say when taking oath.”

This is very special. Madame Mutharika’s was profound lowliness such that her passing ironically tasks us to blow the trumpet of her staggeringly unassuming character. She was what she was because she never felt she was any special. She treasured others more than herself.

She was endowed with vision, passion and action for the less privileged of our society. She understood the obligations of her office and she met them without pomp. This is the kind of wife our president has lost

It is axiomatic that she was Bingu’s chief political advisor, his fountain of inspiration and the ink and brush with which Bingu painted in colour his dreams for the nation.

Now she’s gone. This is the roughest blow in Bingu’s life. He now stands in an empty blue expanse, alone, making others wonder how he’s to steer the ship without Ethel Mutharika, an elegant woman with whom he has walked together with a unified heart for over 40 years.

Bingu’s time as president has been turbulent. Dogged by a crass impeachment saga, seemingly eternal disfavour by certain opposite political voices and struggling to ensure that his government performs, this has been a great test of his mettle. Nevertheless, Bingu has driven into and through the storm like a careless man. His forthrightness has had many faint-hearted citizens open their mouths in trepidation. He knows where precisely this country has to go for the benefit of us all.

Besides, his wife had been battling with cancer for two of the three years he has been in power. But he has scarcely tottered as head of government. He instead strikes the picture of a man who expresses himself so well even in trouble.

Former official hostess Cecilia Kadzamira says it in one newspaper: “He knew she (Ethel) was sick and had to still keep in mind that he was the president of the Republic of Malawi. He worked and delivered what he had promised, carried out projects despite the pain he was going through. Attending meetings during trying times shows commitment, a commitment we must all acquire from this example.”

Commitment was the watchword of his wife. It is Bingu’s. This has been the bastion enabling them to forge ahead towards the ultimate prize, namely, the good of the nation. Their power of vision fell further beyond the intervening problems.

Reverend Kuthyola-Mwale speaks how the First Lady was never daunted by the prospect of death. She had made peace with God. She was looking forward to the trophies beyond death.

“This was very rare of a person who is sick because in my experience, when most Christians are sick they despair and do not want to talk or hear about death but Madam Mutharika said she was ready to die because she was at peace.”

Peace in the form of the betterment of Malawians inspires Bingu. It is his motivating force. That is why he does not personalise or own his political position. He says he “did not become president for politics but for development of the country”.

He has too huge goals, nerves of steel and ambition to be sidetracked by the death of his wife who also bore her illness with grace and bravery, assigning high premium on her responsibility to others.

Knowing what we know, Bingu will apply himself to his duties even more zealously now. He knows that he will have to further the legacy of his wife to transform lives. He has witnessed the songs, the flowers, love, dirges and tears his wife has been accorded in death. But he has to manage the present first. That he knows.

He is heart broken. But he has not lost his confidence. He still dreams in colour. He consults the remnant of that shared heart inside him and it confirms that his imaginations for the people of Malawi are realizable, against all odds including the departure of his co-captain.

Last Saturday was the most tearful of his days. He bid final farewell to the woman he loved, the lady who dignified his identity at the World Bank, Comesa and in his current office. But he knows he will have to pick up the pieces of his life afterwards and, without his better half, walk the remaining journey towards accomplishing his mission for the country.

It is a burdensome trip but he can be assured of the support of many Malawians who dream in colour too. This calamity has demonstrated that he will never walk alone if he continues in the direction suffering people want him to go.

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