When Chitsulo’s joke came to life


n my modest walk across this activity-filled earth, I have been so privileged to meet a rare character that is a combination of extreme wit and boundless humour.

Take notice, when such characters appear in your life, they do so once, and in a short a glance, and before you have full grasp of their character, they disappear into the clouds.

So lucky I was to meet this character twice and over long periods. It was  the Late Edward Chitsulo.

He was a journalist of a rare kind; valiant yet so approachable. He was so seasoned this world could have paid any price to have him around. But the uninviting roll-call of loss descended upon our party and off it went with the music.

He was my lecturer in Journalism School and later, my editor.

In class or in the newsroom, Chitsulo was a must-have. He chiselled his wards with determination and often punctuated his strong mental presence with a coat of humour. But behind the humour were valuable lessons.

One day he stormed out of his office with a paper in his hand. It was a newspaper dummy on which one of the stories announced the conviction of a certain famous man for failure to settle debts.

One hand in his pocket and the other waving the paper in the air, he called names of a couple of his former students who had now joined him in the newsroom.

Contorting his face in emphasis and angling his eyes behind his big and thick spectacles in a look more funny than serious, he announced:

“Mphwanga, ndimakuuzani muziopa ngongole. Imachotsa kuzinyadira kwako.  [I always warn you stay away from debts, they erode your pride],” he said.

“Alipo ena akangoona katundu wangongole saugwira mtima. Olo mafuwa akhoza kutenga, bola ngati ali pa ngongole. [Some people are addicted to debt. They can’t even resist to buycooking stones — the mere stones used to support a pot—as long as payment by instalments is involved].”

That brief, he disappeared into his office, leaving us laughing at the improbable chance of someone getting that addicted to debt.

A few days later, we realised Chitsulo’s talk was not merely out of his funny mould, but from a case he had laboured to solve a few days earlier when agroup of tough guys from the notorious Ndirande Township had come to the office to rough up a journalist for non-settlement of debts.

The journalist had forced himself on expensive suits and shoes way beyond his pay.

A couple of years after his passing, I am reminded of Chitsulo and his lessons on the back of an incident within the week. A fine looking guy met his fate in some supermarket when two furious ladies, plus their ‘brothers,’ pounced on him for a two-year-old debt.

He got beddings, clothes, shoes and perfumes off the women to the tune of K450 000 and only paid back K50 000.

“Ndiiwe m’busa wotani iweyo? [what kind of pastor are you?]

” one woman ranted, grabbing the guy by the belt.

It was a disturbing sight as the muscled brothers lifted the guy out of the store and shoved him into a vehicle that swiftly drove off.

I froze into a trance, seeing Chitsulo warn about debts in the newsroom on a cold morning.

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