August 25 2012 was one of those occasions when we mourn the loss of dear ones with whom we have lived so long that we hardly imagine a day would come when we would be separated from them.
About eight oâ€™clock in the morning of that fateful day, my telephone rang.
â€œMy name is Livingstone Mwanja. I am sad to tell you that your friend Mr Chunga has passed away,â€ said the caller.
I gasped, I sighed, and I remembered the Ngoni language saying â€œumhlaba kaunoniâ€, meaning the earth never gets fat. It swallows kings, it swallows queens, it swallows enemies, and it swallows friends.
The disadvantage of living a long life is that towards the end, most of the best friends you had in days of youth are no longer around, either because they have died or because they live in distant places. Yours then becomes the agony of loneliness.
Many people in Blantyre will miss Hastings Mawola Sanderson (HMS) Chunga because of his sense of humour. On a gloomy day, he would joke and make those sitting or standing nearby laugh. He easily got on with many people. To me, as a freelance writer, he was a source of news and ideas. He met and talked with people whom I seldom had the chance to mix with.
He was popularly named Ngozo, a Ngoni clan name more common among the Maseko Ngoni of Ntcheu than among the Mazongendaba of Mzimba. Why he chose this clan for himself I forgot to ask him. In the Ngoni (Zulu) language, Ngozo means a shrew, an animal that looks like a small mouse with a long pointed nose. In the Tumbuka language, it is called tondo and in Chichewa bwampini, I believe. The first person south of the Limpopo who used the name Ngozo must have adopted the shrew as their totem, an object or reverence.
Chunga died in his early 80s. I first met him in 1944 at Loudon Mission Station of Livingstonia. He had come from Elangeni to sit a Standard Three examination. The following year, he returned as a Standard Four boarder. We became classmates for two years at Loudon, one year at Livingstonia and two years at Blantyre Secondary School where both of us left with the Junior Certificate. He joined the Nyasaland Civil Service while I went to Tanganyika.
At the dawn of independence, he got a scholarship to the University of Ghana, from where he returned later with an economics degree and rejoined the civil service. He retired in the early 1980s at the rank of deputy secretary. Briefly, he worked for parastatals and then went into private consultancy.
Last year, he had suffered a stroke which made him dumb for a number of days. He then had difficulties with his mobility. He never engaged in self-pity till the last moment of his sojourn on this wretched earth.
As we were walking away to see off the hearse which was taking Chungaâ€™s remains to Ehehleni, his village in Mzimba, Mr Chawawa greeted me, â€œWould you mind if I give you an invitation card to attend a very historic occasion when the Peopleâ€™s Party will be holding its first convention.â€
After a slight hesitation, I accepted the card and later on I congratulated myself for having attended the conference of the PP at the College of Medicine Sports Complex. For one reason, I met friends and other personalities I had not seen for some time: Sam Mpasu, Harvey Jere, among others.
It was a very great occasion. The backdrop was all splendour with party loyalists in their PP costumes. This youngest of the political parties is certainly sweeping clean in the political arena. All members of the opposition parties had accepted invitations and were there displaying goodwill despite ideological differences.
As I surveyed the mammoth crowd blazoned with the party cloth, I wondered why a political party with so many members should not raise enough funds from membership and subscription fees.
Time has come for members of a party to own it in the true sense by being shareholders. When a party is supported mostly by membersâ€™ personal funds, those members enjoy freedom to express views on how the party is run.
The Nyasaland African Congress (NAC) and the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) in their early days were supported entirely by membership and subscription fees. Their treasurers actively sold party membership cards and conducted membership renewal campaigns.