Despite my protestations, we are in Dedza. Our commander-in-chief and leader of delegation, Abiti Joyce Befu, MG 66, directed that we visit and camp in Dedza, the district where the Ngoni and Chewa, Muslim, Christian and animists live and eat together. Dedza was once upon a time a feared district. In the one party era, nobody mentioned Dedza without first looking around to see who else was listening. It was once rumoured that everybody in Dedza belonged to either the MYP, the Youth League or to the CCAM and that even the grass had ears.
You guessed right. Dedza is the tribal home of Mama Cecilia Kadzamira, probably the most influential and powerful woman in the post-colonialist history of Malawi. Mama never appeared on the cover page of any international magazine, but her name alone meant power. Her sunglasses symbolised power. Her handbag, wristwatch, shoes, earrings, and hair were power. Her domineering height was power. Her footprint was proof of real power. A song called Cecilia was once banned because, well, Mama herself will tell us in her memoirs, which, we understand, are likely to be entitled, My Life with the Ngwazi. Some journalists were fired from the MBC for quoting her as saying something as banal as every man needs a woman. Although the journalists maintained Cecilia really did say what they had quoted, the Ngwazi, it would seem, was not pleased. And because the Ngwazi was not pleased, the journalists must have lied!
You also guessed right. Dedza is the home of John Zenus Tembo, the man who saw the presidency of Malawi slip through his fingers, not once, not twice, but thrice; the man who has been MP for more than 50 years. Poets, even Jack Mapanje, feared Dedza and could only refer to it in cryptic imagery. Students, even the great vociferous political critic, Zangaphee Joshua Chizeze, feared Dedza and could only refer to it in loads of meandering prose. Dudu Estate, John Tembo’s farm near Linthipe Bridge was evergreen. It has not been that green since the MCP lost power. The PTC at Dedza was called Dudu Superette even if, we understand, it belonged to Press Properties. The name has been changed since the MCP lost power. John Tembo was, at one time, chairperson of 13 parastatal companies. He has not been chairperson of anything nationally serious since the MCP lost power.
In the 1980s, in particular, the Kadzamira-Tembo family was often referred to as the royal family and literary drowned the popularity of Chiwengo family in Kasungu, birthplace of Dr Kamuzu Banda. That is not so today. In Malawi, political fortunes depend on one’s access to the Account Number One, the Cashgate Account. Kamuzu Academy, some say, was built with Cashgate money, but nobody wants us to talk about the past.
What is most shocking about Dedza is that the great district has one of the lowest primary school enrolment levels in Malawi. Why? We will travel to all corners of Dedza and come back with answers.
Hardly did we settle down at Dedza when Jean-Philippe LePoisson, Native Authority Mandela, and Joyce Befu announced that they would be spending the Christmas and New Year Holidays in Monkey Bay to take advantage of the amicably settled issue relating to eating, selling, and marketing of pork products in the Islamic State that is Mangochi. They told me one by one how much they had missed roasted pork and how eating it on the Mangochi shores of Lake Malawi would add value to Christmas and New Year festivities.
“But,” I asked, “When did you make that decision?”
“This morning,” MG 66 answered drily.
“How come I was not consulted?”
“Where in the world are drivers consulted?” MG 66 responded, laughing like a pregnant matriarch.
“Look here, woman, I am more than a driver. I am here because I know the countryside better than all of you!”
“Well. Good luck. Sheikh Jean-Philippe will drive the vehicle and we will leave you here,” MG 66 said.
“May I come in?” Native Authority Mandela jumped in to stop our rather rough dialogue.
“She thinks she exudes real power when she is just a figurehead,” I said.
“Cool down. Cool down. Down. Down,” Native Authority Mandela pleaded.
“We are going to Monkey Bay to rest,” Jean-Philippe said. “It is sad you were not consulted, but we can’t afford divisions. Everybody has a role to play in this group.”
“Thanks, Sheikh and Native Authority Mandela. I am not going with you. I will stay here. You will find me.”
“May I plead that we go together?” Native Authority spoke softly like a babysitter singing a lullaby to a naughty bonda.
“Sorry guys, I wish you a Happy and Prosperous New Year!”