Malawi: Waiting for the next village idiot- Charles Simango

We are all familiar with the village idiot (chitsiru cha m’mudzi) – that character who speaks whatever comes to mind with very little attention to decorum.

If, like me, you grew up in a village you know that every village has an idiot of its own. The village idiot usually comes home drunk and, in the quiet of the evening, starts screaming on top of his voice. Most of what he or she (there are a lot of she village idiots, too) would say would just be nonsense.

But once in a while the village idiot stumbles upon some juicy village gossip. Something regarding who is sleeping with whose wife, for instance, or what kind of bribe the chief received in some transaction. Except for the lone voice of an idiot, those can be very quiet evenings in the village. The women stop pounding, the men stop carving their hoe and axe handles, even the chickens go quite – the village stops and listens. Finally, someone is saying just what they have always wanted to say but never had the guts to do it.

Kaliati: She was government spokeperson in DPP era

Then there is another type of village idiots that needs no alcoholic assistance to be wax nonsensical. They will speak their mind, mentioning the unmentionables at any place, any time. Somehow, we have all come to tolerate and accept them, dismissing them as mad or woduka mutu.

They do not all stay in the village, this type. You will find them in towns, in offices, in classrooms, at the work place – everywhere.

Just like their village counterparts, this lot also plays a very important role in our lives. We need them in our offices so they can speak up during staff meetings and tell the boss to his face to stop monopolising field trips.

We depend on these idiots to stand up in church and interrupt a preacher’s sermon on low collections, telling him in his face that people no longer want to give because he was seen with some female member of the congregation, pushing two full shopping trolleys in Shoprite while the congregation is living on bonya.

Today village idiots have gained even more currency, playing a very important role in politics. I am talking here about the likes of Patricia Kaliati, Dumbo Lemani, Morris Kachimbwinda and Charles Kamphulusa.

Now before you crucify me, let me mention that much as the term ‘village idiot’ may sound impolite, it does have a very important – and necessary – role in politics. In today’s world, you are looking at someone who can say things to the President that ministers and advisors are afraid to say.

Take Kamphulusa, for example. The Blantyre MCP District Chairman was known for notorious and aggressive platform speeches as he campaigned against multiparty democracy back in the ‘90s.

Among his famous speeches was one where he went to town, telling off President Hastings Kamuzu Banda’s ministers right in front of the Ngwazi. He famously said akungokhala phwii (ministers are sitting idle) instead of helping the fight.

The point, here, is that it was unheard of for anyone to launch a public attack on any senior party official, let alone doing so in front of the Ngwazi. You really needed some high level idiocy to do that.

Then there was Morris Kachimbwinda, the UDF Central Region Governor. He said a lot of unprintable things during his time as governor but there is one which still stands out in the minds of many. Apparently irked by MCP attacks on the then ruling UDF through its party spokesperson, Heatherwick Ntaba, Kachimbwinda decided to put Ntaba in his right place.

During a rally, Kachimbwinda made this very short speech before asking President Bakili Muluzi to address the rally:

“Bwana, Dr. Ntaba akhala akupanga maphokoza masiku apitawa ndiye ndati anthu adziwe zinthu zitatu za munthu ameneyu kuti asanyengeke ndi zonena zake. Choyamba Dr. Ntaba ankaimba disiko pa Lingadzi apa. Chachiwiri, Dr. Ntaba anali woyera ngati a Harry Thomsom akhala apawa koma anada biii! chifukwa chokonda usamba vimankhwala! Chachitatu, Dr. Ntaba anaakwatila mzungu koma anawathawa chifukwa cha vimankhwala! Bwana President, lankhulani anthu anu.”

(Sir, Dr. Ntaba has been making a lot of noise lately and I just wanted to let people know three things about this man lest they get misled. Firstly, Dr. Ntaba used to be a DJ at Lingadzi Inn. Secondly, Dr. Ntaba used to be very light-skinned just like Mr. Harry Thomson here but he became dark-skinned because of using juju in his bath water. Thirdly, Dr. Ntaba was married to a white lady but she left him because of his apparent love for juju.)

The only truth, here, is that Ntaba is dark-skinned while Thomson is light-skinned owing to his mixed race. I also hear Ntaba used to be a good DJ. As for the rest of the allegations, that was just sheer idiocy, in my view.

And then, there was one Dumbo Lemani. I first met Dumbo, as he was fondly known, in 1993. I had hiked a lift from a lawyer friend of mine who happens to come from the North and was driving to Blantyre after attending some workshop on democracy in Mangochi.

When he picked me in Zomba, he was in company of some very argumentative, huge, gray-haired man.

Somewhere along the way, a discussion ensued about who was likely to win the elections with my friend, of course, supporting a fellow Northerner Chakufwa Chihana of Aford to which Dumbo replied:

“Zosatheka, achimwene, aTumbuka simungalamulire (Impossible, my brother, Tumbukas cannot rule this country). You just do not have the numbers. Ngati Muluzi sawina basi Congress itilamuliranso. (If Muluzi loses, the MCP will rule us again.”)

Just like that. He did not even blink. I was stunned. How can you be so tribalistic, more so to someone who has given you a free ride?

But, as things turned out, the UDF indeed won and Chihana came a distance third. The North did not have the numbers. Dumbo was right but brutal. But what Dumbo said is something you never ever say to a person, certainly not in their face.

Well, as the years went by, Dumbo was propelled to the national podium and the rest of country came to taste a dose of his brutal truths. He annoyed a lot of people in the first years. But, as the years went by, the country came to accept him for who he really was – woduka mutu.

Yet we loved to hear what he had to say. We looked forward to his reaction to issues. We did not know what to expect but we knew it would be brutal but true. We wanted him to say something. And that is what makes an effective village idiot.

But Dumbo was not going to be the best village idiot had the DPP fluffed their chance. In my view, they had one of the best natural players for this role. As far as I am concerned, the DPP was guilty of serious misallocation of an essential resource called Patricia Kaliati. The woman was born for this job: she pulls no punches, takes no prisoners. Kaliati simply speaks the truth; she is brutal and has the rare ability of firing from the hip without missing.

Yet, for some reason, the DPP thought that they could get the best out of Kaliati by appointing her to the role of government spokesperson. Really?

What chief would appoint a village idiot to councillor or, worse still, a chief’s spokesperson? What makes a village idiot to be such an effective tool of communication is that the idiot speaks on nobody’s behalf and answers to nobody. The moment a village idiot is made to speak in an official capacity, it makes their statements formal, thereby defeating its very purpose by removing impunity.

A village idiot cannot be formal. By making Kaliati government spokesman her role was compromised and all that knack and natural talent was put to waste.

That was then. But today, 9 months after President Joyce Banda took the reigns of power, we do not have anything resembling a village idiot. The country cannot hear the brutal truths, the President cannot hear the brutal truths. In short, we cannot hear the truth.

Until the President finds one, she will continue to be told not what she needs to hear but what her cronies think she wants to hear. Until the President finds herself a natural village idiot we, as a country, will continue to miss out on that rare perspective of politics – the truth.

*Source: Malawi News

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