Hon Folks, Themba la Mathemba Chikulamayembe was on Tuesday laid to rest. But the dust stirred by political drama at his funeral continues to choke the Tumbuka and entire Northern Region.
There’s good reason for this. The North is an important kingmaker in the 2019 presidential race. DPP’s Peter Mutharika and MCP’s Lazarus Chakwera who have the South and Centre as their strongholds respectively see the North as holding the winning card.
On the other hand, a recent Ipor study conducted hardly two month after the launch of Saulos Chilima’s UTM, showed that the new kid on the block is already the toast of the North.
Obviously, it’s a gain Chilima would want to consolidate on while aggressively trying to penetrate the other regions as well.
Which begs the question: why did all the three converge on Chikulamayembe’s funeral? Government initially announced that APM would be represented by Minister of Local Government and Rural Development Kondwani Nankhumwa. But later in the day, the OPC issued another statement, saying APM would personally attend. Why the change? Your guess is as good as mine.
There are usually real reasons and good reasons for the actions taken by politicians. You get to hear about the good reasons, not the real reasons.
So, the good reason why APM and the two who want to wrestle power from him next year faced off at the funeral was because they all wanted to commiserate with the bereaved—the family of the fallen chief as well as the entire Tumbuka tribe–on their loss of a patriarch.
Nankhumwa, who spoke on behalf of the President, said APM was so grief-stricken by the death of his “close friend” that he couldn’t speak for himself. Close friends? Well, who are we to doubt that?
But the media can also attest to the closeness of the fallen chief to both Chakwera and Chilima. Who can forget how Chikulamayembe used his own vehicle to rescue these opposition leaders when they were being pelted by DPP roughnecks at a Gonapamhanya Festival of the Tumbuka they attended as guests of Themba la Mathemba recently?
Chikulamayembe rose above partisan politics, accommodating in his heart as a traditional leader and in his jurisdiction politicians from both the governing and opposition sides. He was a true democrat who respected the multiparty politics Malawians chose through the 1993 National Referendum. He also respected the right of his subjects to associate with political parties of their choice.
If the truth be told, this is an attribute lacking in many traditional leaders who, induced by mswahara (honorarium) and other freebies from government, pledge blind support to “government of the day” while treating the opposition as rebels or enemies of progress.
But the real reason why Mutharika, Chakwera and Chilima were in Rumphi on Tuesday was to win the hearts of northern region voters. By attending the funeral, each one of them wanted to be seen as a true friend “oyenda m’maliro” (humble enough to commiserate with the bereaved).
No doubt then that Chakwera and Chilima would’ve loved to be granted the courtesy to deliver their eulogies. Probably they too would’ve too grief-stricken to speak directly. In politics, especially in Malawi, funerals are political battlefields.
That they did not speak may be a big deal to them and the clergy that wanted them to speak, But if they were not representing government at the state funeral then they could only speak if the bereaved family so wished.
Sad though that their presence at the funeral where the President was also in attendance, instead of being an honour, turned the funeral service into a battle field not for themselves nor the rowdy youth who easily fight enemies of their masters but for the respectable people we usually associate with peace.
It was the clergy of the Livingstonia Synod and traditional leaders—highly trusted by the grassroots, according to the Ipor study—who ended up with an egg all over the face.
The politicians who caused it all are back home, sipping their coffee. The people of the Northern Region are left with the double-whammy of losing Themba la Mathemba and the cordial relations between their highly trusted traditional and Church leaders
Their mistake was to engage in a needless tug-of-war over how best to accommodate warring politicians who were only there physically while spiritually they were already in 2019, scrambling for keys to the State House. n