“Let thy speech be better than silence, or be silent”– Dionysius of Halicarnassus
Vice-President Khumbo Kachali, for sometime, was the undisputed champion of a guy who had the proverbial shoe permanently stuck in his mouth. There was a time he competed with himself to say the most bizarre things one wondered whether he was on a political suicide mission or he was high on something not exactly legal.
Remember his infamous “panyumba pa anyoko” rant? In trying to justify his – and his boss’ – daily trotting, both global and local, Citizen Number 2 dared us, mid finger thrust in our face, that he and his boss do not travel to our mothers’ wretched homes.
Well, travel to our mothers’ hovels or not, the veep was forced to take that one back – albeit grudgingly.
But the good Ngoni man from Mzimba was not done. He got himself involved in some needless ‘bed-gate’ that made him look like some incarnation of Lucifer. You know the Mponela beds story…
But it is not as if Khumbo is the only one when it comes to speaking out of turn. Uladi ‘Chenji Golo’ Mussa picked some issues with some of his Muslim brothers who took great exception at his trivialisation of some Muslim proclamation of faith or Shahada, as they call it. I am not sure if he has apologised yet – as demanded – but I do not see him going “Lá iláha illallah” again at a political podium any time soon.
Eunice Makangala, that Ndirande lady, also decided to print her name on the walk of shame. She told the world her boss, Joyce Banda, is infallible that whosoever criticises her is a witch out to no good.
Well, one does not need to be George Thindwa to pick holes in the good lady’s ranting. Makangala, a former trade unionist herself, went ballistic after activist Voice Mhone put the President on the spot at a Labour Day event by telling it to her face that some of her policies were hurting Malawian workers.
But Abiti was having none of it. She challenged the activist right there and then (pompo pompo!) to provide solutions.
Aunt Eunice took it upon herself to defend her boss by branding Mhone and everyone of his ilk as good-for-nothing masters of the dark science.
Well, I have one word for Aunt Eunice: her statement is outright criminal, no two ways about it. The last time I checked, Malawian laws do not recognise witchcraft. In fact, it is an arrestable offense to call anybody a “witch” if our laws are anything to go by.
Now, if somebody serving in the Executive arm of government – who took an oath of office and allegiance – does not understand the laws she is supposed to defend, then God help us!
But, to be fair to Eunice Makangala, her boss also has had her own moments of infamy. She has said some things that have left many of us with mouths agape.
That said, all this boils down to one thing: our leaders have not mustered the art of public speaking. They speak things on impulse. They have no time to think through their public utterances to gauge possible impact.
That is why I do not envy the work of my senior colleague Steven Nhlane and my good friend Moses Kunkuyu. These guys, never mind that they adequately get compensated for their troubles, have to clean up whenever something has been said that was not supposed to be said in the first place.
The problem with cleaning up the mess after the bosses have soiled up is that almost nobody believes you. You may take out hectares of newsprint or hours of airtime on radio or television to make your point but people have already gotten the message and have already formed an opinion.
Our leaders have to invest in the art of public speaking. Mind you, speaking is not only about words. The mode of dress also matters. For example, a leader must not attend a funeral wearing anything reddish!
But, back to the important subject of the spoken word, leaders must check anger in their tone. Anybody who is angry – be they leaders or commoners – may not be rational. But leaders must always be seen to be rational in spite of themselves.
Smile even if you want to cry. Embrace me even if you want to slap me. Tell me “that’s a very good point” even if what you really want to say is “that’s the dumbest thing I have ever heard since my soon-to-be-wife told me I was the most handsome dude in the whole wide world”!
Bottom-line: always say the right things – not according to you – but according to your intended audience. Tough, of course, but important if you want to remain relevant in politics!
- The original version of this article appears in the Sunday Times