Remember the Ngoni handclapping phu! phu! phu! with Robson Chirwa: The man Kamuzu loved and saved through a helicopter

My once-off interaction with Robson Chirwa (RC) confirmed what former ministers of Kamuzu had shared to me about  RC: that he was so timid and overly respectful of Kamuzu. For about 20 years of his service as cabinet Minister under Kamuzu, RC could not present his ministerial report during a cabinet meeting without having to sit on the floor – as a sign of respect to his Godfather. This appears to be RC’s trademark in his entire service to Kamuzu.

Veteran politician and patriot Robson Watayachanga Chirwa no more

For every clarification that Kamuzu sought from RC, sitting down, making a ngoni clap (phu phu) and bowing were the three rituals that RC used to perform before providing a response to his master. A few cabinet colleagues of RC -such as Muwalo, Gwanda Chakuamba, Kumtumanji, Nyasulu etc – who mocked and sarcastically made fun of RC’s rituals went to their political grave early.

RC knew what he was doing and it made him survive throughout Kamuzu’s rein. Edward Bwanali tried to copy the rituals but unfortunately, he was using them for wrong reasons. As a brilliant young minister, Kamuzu loved and even tried to mentor Bwanali to be a responsible minister. But it appears Kamuzu only succeeded in mentoring the technical part of Bwanali – the private life was not “unbwanalied”. The young Bwanali had huge penchant for “dresses” and could drive all the way to Karonga  in the evening from Blantyre just to see a mistress.

One day, Kamuzu decided to rebuke Bwanali of this moribund habit in a cabinet meeting. “The Young Pioneers trail behind you every time you go to meet your mistresses, stop this nonsense” was Kamuzu’s stern warning to which Bwanali responded by leaving his chair and sitting on the floor close to Kamuzu’s feet as a sign of remorse. He sat there for the entire 4 hours of the cabinet meeting. Even at tea break, he remained seated to the laughter of his cabinet colleagues. But this did not save him from the wrath of Kamuzu in subsequent years. He went down the political annals humiliated.

But RC must have had more ingredients besides the three rituals that made him survive. It wouldn’t so honest for even those that experienced some political downfalls were honesty comrades. I wouldn’t say hard work either. But I believe it must have been conspicuousness of RC’s clean motives and ambitions. He harbored no presidential ambitious and was not a threat to JZU, Kadzamira family and even Kamuzu himself.

Unlike Muwalo, Gwanda, Chiwanda, Gadama etc who held presidential ambitions, RC was contended with what Kamuzu offered him: a contentment which would explain why he completely went into complete political oblivion after Kamuzu’s exit. The purity of RC’s political ambition was unfortunately only appreciated by Kamuzu. The inner circle of Kamuzu viewed RC as a threat to the extent that one day they must have plotted his termination. This was when RC was administrative secretary of MCP.

During that week, RC had sought permission of travel from Kamuzu to monitor the progress of party card sales in Mzimba. Upon successful completion of the task, he was set to drive back to Blantyre. A ground phone rang in Mzimba’s MCP office and the office assistant went to pick it. Guess who was on the other hand? Kamuzu himself. He had been trying to get hold of RC the whole day and made 8 calls himself. The breathe of sigh could be heard from Kamuzu’s end. He asked to speak to RC. On the phone, Kamuzu instructed RC to drive back fast to Blantyre.

An hour later, Kamuzu did the unusual again. He called some Jenda shop-owner and instructed the shop- owner to ensure that RC calls him from his ground line. Another hour elapsed without RC passing through the Jenda shops. Kamuzu called again. Another hour passed. Kamuzu called again. Another hour passed, Kamuzu called again. Just at the time he was making the fourth call, RC was ushered into the shop and the phone was handed to him. Kamuzu sounded so relieved on the phone but RC did not know what was happening.

RC then left Jenda but 30 minutes into his Jenda-Kasungu leg, Kamuzu commenced a series of phone calls, this time towards Kasungu police. By the time RC arrived at Kasungu Boma, Kamuzu had made 4 calls, all of them asking the police to confirm if he had arrived. Surely only Kamuzu knew what was to befall on RC but the owner had no idea. Inpatient with RCs arrival at Kasungu Boma, Kamuzu instructed Kasungu’s MYP team to drive towards RC’s direction. They met just 20 kilometers before Kasungu Boma and RC was asked to  jump into another tinted car. He was driven to Kamuzu’s Nguluyanawambe residence in Kasungu where an army helicopter was awaiting him. He was flown from Kasungu to Blantyre and was instructed to put up at Mount Soche and not his official home.

The same evening, Kamuzu summoned an emergency cabinet meeting. There was nothing on the agenda. When the meeting commenced, Kamuzu asked RC to recount how he had travelled from Mzimba to Blantyre to which RC did. Kamuzu then asked if anyone had a question to which none responded. He then declared the meeting over. Such was Kamuzu’s love for RC that he gave his only reliable helicopter to ferry RC that whoever planned evil must not succeed.

Rest in Peace RC!

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The Eye and Ear

Good writing Doc but the following:
1. Pu pu hand clapping is not a ngoni style but but of all banthu people and this is described in most early historical books especially those written in late 1800s.
2. I doubt if when RC was joining cabinet Kuntumanje was still a minister.


Rest in peace papa RC

chaponda mchimanga

Loyal ministers of Kamuzu. That’s why this country ticked in every sectors. Osati zomwe tikuzion lerozi.


This is a very good writing Dr. Lombe keep it up am really impressed

Victor Kaonga

Interesting story. RC shared about this incident too when I interviewed him in 2010.


A good servant is not a slave!!




levi phiri

May your sour rest in peace grand father.

Lombe you can do better- You cannot write of the nasty things Bwanali was doing when you wanted to write an obituary for RC. The story of Kamuzu calling RC could have been further probed as it is not clear really in what was the threat to RC- Good writing involves research and narration. This is simply narration there were so many things that RC did and you could have researched well- You started the story with ‘in my encouter with.. ” but the whole story did not pinpoint the fact that you met him – Please improve your writing-… Read more »

I loved reading this! Great stuff Dr Lombe.

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