During the dawn of multiparty democracy, one radio station held the entire nation rapt in attention: Radio RSA Chinyanja Service.
The initial Chinyanja Service had Malawians in Tony Machilika, Mike Mlongoti, Joe Dawe and the late Charles Ndau.
Later the crop was joined by the youthful team of Chaipa ‘Double Chai’ Hiwa, Owen Lupeska aka Chidzukulu cha Ajongwe and the songstress, Maria Chidzanja-Nkhoma.
Chaipa is still at the South African Broadcasting Cooperation (Sabc) under the Chinyanja Service of Channel Africa.
He has spent the last 21 years walking through the corridors of Sabc at Auckland Park, Johannesburg—arguably the best and highly independent public media institution in southern Africa.
He remains the face of Malawi on the channel as the others are out. But how did he find himself in the rainbow nation?
Said Chaipa: “I had always loved the presentation style of Channel Africa trough the Chinyanja Service which sounded relaxed, flexible, not rigid yet informative and entertaining. I felt this style suited me and when the chance came to join the Chinyanja team of Channel Africa, I took it.
“I joined as a producer/journalist rising through the ranks to head of the Chinyanja Service. When I joined there were three of us from the MBC: Anankhoma [Maria], Ajongwe and I. The two colleagues left after some time but I stayed on. Let me just add that it was Anankhoma who heard about the openings at Channel Africa and asked me to apply if I was interested.”
Since May 1994, Chaipa has been one of the voices behind numerous programmes on the channel. While he is seldom on air, Double Chai, as he used to call himself before trekking to South Africa, is running the everyday affairs of the Chinyanja Radio Service as its head.
“Every day I meet with my team brainstorming what we have planned for the day depending on the information we get through our correspondents in our target areas. Later in the day, I represent the service at editorial meetings where heads from others services like Swahili, French and all, meet and see top stories for the day,” he said.
Chaipa’s story of how he joined MBC can best be described as a matter of chance.
As he grew up, he harboured dreams of being on radio with James Chimera as his biggest inspiration. But an opportunity would not avail itself until his brother saw an advert in the local press.
“There were adverts in the Daily Times, looking for producers and presenters. My brother, who was in Liwonde at the time, saw the advert and sent them to me. He made a cutting and sent it to me through the post. I was in Lilongwe.
“My brothers encouraged me to apply for both positions which I did. I got called to attend interviews for both posts and I chose production. I went into production because it combines all aspects of broadcasting from interviews, scripting, editing, including presentation,” he recalls.
His first attempt of radio production was in the talk shows and magazine section before being asked to help with musical shows.
“My first show was the Saturday Night Dancing Party. I think because of my age then, I found out that I loved music presentations more than talks and magazine programmes. So, naturally it was just a matter of time before I moved from production to presentation. By that time I had honed in all the production skills, I wanted to have more of the other side of radio. I went into full time presentation.
“The big chiefs in presentation were not disappointed and assigned me what at one time were being taken as ‘special’ shows to be done by senior presenters. These shows included Pop Sounds, Top Tunes, the Morning Basket and my favourite, Sundown Reggae,” he recollected.
While working for MBC under a one party State brings bad memories for some, Chaipa says the State controlled broadcaster moulded him to be what he is today.
He explains: “The experience taught me how to maximise the use of limited air time. If you remember MBC was not a 24-hour station then, and yet it was able to provide entertainment, school and informative programmes. This was because of good scheduling.
“Working for MBC taught me self-discipline. At that time, nobody would police me to check if my programme was on time or not. The top guys did not micro manage me or anybody else. Whatever I did I only thought of the listener, which helped me to grow as a broadcaster.
“There were also a number of people who set exceptional standards such as Davis Mussa and Anankhoma who were all-rounders.”
His experience has stayed with him and has catapulted him to the levels he has attained now.
“Another point that has stayed with me is how MBC managed to bring national cohesion through programming that was relevant to the needs of the listenership. Most people would not miss Tadzuka, Kapalepale, Mwatiyendela among others.
“So, I would say MBC taught me how to stay focused in achieving the aims of a station. My stay at the station was fulfilling and it was not easy to leave. I had a real nice working relationship with my colleagues across the departments,” said the broadcaster who joined MBC in February 1983.
Born in 1962, Chaipa is a proud Ntcheu man.
“Both parents came from Ntcheu, but I grew up in Lilongwe and Blantyre, where I was raised by my elder brothers. This was because my dad passed on when I was very young and my brothers always believed that a boy must grow amongst men,” he says.