Kamuzu the innovator

Tomorrow is Kamuzu Day, a day on which the nation, or those who will, spare a moment to remember the man regarded as the founder of the modern nation of Malawi. This column will give you some insights into some aspects of Kamuzu’s non-political life. Everybody talks about Kamuzu the politician, forgetting he had aspirations outside politics, which people rarely talk about.

Kamuzu was an innovator in the sense that he did certain things in his own way, hoping to reap anticipated results. Approach to his own education was wrapped in innovation. He did not want to be the type of doctor who did not have much appreciation of life outside the profession. He, therefore, decided to study history and politics before he embarked on his medical training.

Nyasaland being under British administration, Kamuzu knew that his American medical qualification would not entitle him to a job back home. This is what made him travel to Scotland in pursuit of a British qualification. In Scotland, he met a former missionary to Nyasaland, whom he remembered vividly. It was Cullen Young.

While invigilating an examination that Kamuzu was taking back in Nyasaland, Young had expelled the young Kamuzu from the examination hall because of what he thought was an act of cheating. Being small in stature, and sitting at the back of the examination hall, Kamuzu could not read the question on the board properly. He, therefore, stood to read them over somebody else’s shoulder. Young could not take it and immediately threw Kamuzu out.

Kamuzu had to resort to innovation to continue with his education. It would have been over for any faint-hearted character, but Kamuzu belonged to a different league. He quickly resolved to travel to South Africa to continue his education, not by plane or train or by road, walking. He stopped over at Hartley in Southern Rhodesia, where he worked in the hospital for some time, before proceeding South Africa.

When Kamuzu met Young in Scotland, he did not let events of the past get in the way of their acquaintance. This is the side of Kamuzu that many people are not familiar with. He is better known for his cruelty towards anybody that dared cross his path. Kamuzu forged a friendship with Young, which friendship culminated in the two men co-editing a book titled Our African Way of Life. What an innovative way of handling a man who was responsible for your possible early exit from education. Had Kamuzu replicated this kind of innovation in later years, his political career would have been a lot cleaner.

One area where Kamuzu’s innovativeness came into its own was in languages. On the South African mines, Kamuzu was the interpreter of English messages from the bosses into Zulu. Both languages were foreign to him, but he learnt them well enough to almost effortlessly switch from one to the other.

Later, he also learnt German and studied Greek and Latin.  Some people were appalled by his insistence on the classic languages as compulsory subjects at his Kamuzu Academy. Much of modern day English has Greek and Latin roots, so his insistence was not misplaced.

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