Many know him as a novelist while others as a journalist.
However, there is another side of art of this man that a lot of people do not know. He is also a poet, playwright and director. His name is Willie Zingani.
During an interview that started with a tour of his farm in Dowa before settling for an informal talk at his residence in Lilongwe’s uptown suburb of Area 12, the writer explained that he was born March 14 1954.
Zingani is a son of the late Reverend Maxwell Zingani, an Anglican priest. After completing his MSCE, Zingani got a scholarship to study journalism at the Africa Literature Centre in Zambia. He then went for a Publishing and Public Relations course at Oxford Brookes University in the UK.
“This is the time I got so much interest in book writing. However, I joined journalism in 1982 at Malawi News as a features writer,” recalls Zingani with a smile.
However, he says life was not easy under the one party state.
“It was very tough time as I spent some time at Chichiri Prison for allegedly writing an article on the arrest of Orton and Vera Chirwa,” he recalls.
The article, which was published by Africa Confidential in London with no byline, yet the Malawi government believed it was written by Zingani for whatever reasons.
“I avoid discussing the torture I experienced while in detention because I forgave my jailors,” he says, and adds: “But the job was exciting as it was not the world of computers because we were writing on a manual typewriter. What I learnt most that time although it was under heavy censorship kind of life, there was discipline,” he beamed.
Zingani rose within the ranks and left Malawi News as editor.
At the dawn of democracy, Zingani found a job at the Ministry of Information. He was Editor at the government Weekly News for a year before a bigger and more challenging opportunity arose.
“The then president, Bakili Muluzi, wanted to write a book, and that is how I went to State House as his personal assistant, where I helped him with research on his book, Democracy with a Price.
“After launching the book, the President decided that I should not go back to the information department but rather be his deputy press secretary. After my boss, Alaudin Osman resigned, I was appointed Presidential Press Secretary, a position I served until Dr Muluzi moved out of the State House in 2004,” he explained.
Life was good and miserable during that time according to Zingani.
He explains that his greatest strength as Presidential Press Secretary was that he was not the President’s ‘yes man’.
“There was a lot of consultation and debate with the president to accomodate my advice,” he recalls.
After nine years serving the first citizen of Malawi, Zingani found himself jobless.
He explained: “I could not return to the Ministry of Information because I was told Bingu wa Mutharika did not want me. That kept me out of job for four years until I picked up a job with Nation Publications Limited as bureau chief. When my two year contract expired, I was back on the streets, job hunting.”
Another opportunity in a political office came again, this time in Joyce Banda’s office when she was vice president from July 2009 to April 2010.
Surprisingly, before taking up the job in the Vice President’s office, the late Mutharika called Zingani to revamp The Guardian newspaper but five months down the line, he quit due to misunderstandings.
All along, Zingani never lost touch with his writing side so much so that he has eight books to his credit.
“I have published eight books; Ndaziona ine, Madzi Akataika, Njala Bwana, Nkhondo Simanga Mudzi, Idzani Muone, Khwangwala Opusa and Nthano Zina which were all published locally. Unfortunately, two of my novels; From the Phone Booth and The Preacher and the Joker are out of print and I am trying to have them reprinted.
“Other than that, I have had my poems published in different anthologies across the globe. Some of my poems are in the MSCE syllabus, in primary school syllabus in Ghana and in the secondary school syllabus in Ethiopia. In a few months time, I will be launching my novel, His Excellency Papa, a fiction story which has fictionalised my experiences in State House and from what I observed during Bingu and JB’s time. My good friends Grey Mang’anda and Alfred Msadala are helping with editing after the manuscript was critiqued by writer Jack McBrams,” he said.
Talking about Malawi journalism today, he says the country is on track and doing well in terms of investigative reporting.
He elaborated: “Today, there is very little that politicians can do and try to hide. The new crop is very aggressive but those days, you could not even dare. I was working for the newspapers when the likes of Aaron Gadama, Dick Matenje, Twaibu Sangala and David Chiwanga where ‘accidentalised’. We could not publish the true version of that story and we were forced to use an official press release which indicated that the four politicians had died in a road accident.”
Before establishing himself as journalist and writer, Zingani also had a stint with drama.
“I was founding member of Kwathu Drama group. In fact, I am the one who gave the name Kwathu. Madzi Akataika, was the group’s first play which was adapted from my book and was written and directed by me and the late Charles Severe,” he explains.
Zingani joined Limbe Leaf as corporate services manager in 2010. He retired last month.
But what will the father of six, none of whose children followed his path, be doing?
“My whole life has been all about publishing and combining with my years of training I have been writing from 1973. Now, I will be doing consultancy and writing advertorials to sell myself while I rest at my farm in Dowa. I am also interested in writing biographies for people such as Dr Muluzi, President Joyce Banda, John Tembo and obituaries for Dr Kamuzu Banda, Bishop Chiona and Chief M’mbelwa IV,” he said.
When all is said and done, Zingani wants to be remembered as a “man who positively contributed to the growth of literature and journalism in Malawi, no matter how small in a way.”