Raphael Tenthani, fondly known by his peers as R 10, was a revered Malawian journalist who contributed to many news outlets including Associated Press, Nyasa Times, The Sunday Times and Malawi News. He was also longest serving correspondent for the BBC in Malawi. He died Saturday night in a car crash, and eulogies have flowed in describing him as a unique personality and an exceptional journalist.
Three years ago – in 2012 – I first met Raphael Tenthani face to face – Malawi’s celebrated media gem who passed on Saturday night in a car crash in Balaka. I was only a small boy.
Apparently, I was in Blantyre as one of the nominees for the 2012 First Merchant Bank/Malawi Writers Union Short Story Award. At the time, Malawi’s most prestigious award for short fiction.
Well, Ralph and I had corresponded greatly before that. A few months before this November meet, I had been roped in as a full time reporter for The Maravi Post, an online publication for which Ralph was also contributor and consulting editor.
It was him correcting me here and there and I asking about this and that. For me, Ralph was no equal. He was international class, and me a small boy trying to make a way through rough waters.
But then a miracle happened. Ralph called me. I had, to use my former employer’s word, authored a series of ‘scathing’ articles on the wrangles between miner at the Kayerekera Uranium Mine (KUM) Paladin Africa Limited and local Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), especially the Karonga Business Coalition.
And, Ralph told me my reporting was promising. He said if I had any chance of getting to Malawi’s commercial capital I should not fail to meet him.
Ironically, I was already in Blantyre. At the moment he called, I was with my cousin Ephraim Nyondo, now a senior news analyst at Nation Publications Limited.
I remember Ephraim telling me: “Ralph is a great man. Meet him.” So, I picked up my phone and dialed the latest number that I had saved: Raphael Tenthani’s.
He answered rather too quickly to my surprise. To me Raphael Tenthani was like one of these big people who will ignore your call for no reason at all. I told him I was in Blantyre.
He was coming, he said. To personally pick me up. In thirty minutes he said. It was around 11:00 am.
But by 11:41 am, Ralph was nowhere to be seen. So, being the impatient boy that sometimes I am, I left – for Times Group offices the next street for a chat with another good colleague Temwani Mgunda.
When Mgunda heard what I had just done, he threw a spate of friendly insults on me and repeatedly said Ralph was an important person to me both as a budding journalist and writer.
He advised me to call him back, and apologize. I had sinned, Temwani said, through my most grievous fault.
It was too late. I had to be at the Livingstone Towers, First Merchant Bank headquarters at 2:00pm in Blantyre’s CBD. In fact, I was at the time more engrossed in the splendor of my nomination than talking to one journalist I was going to meet for the first time.
I got first prize in the awards for my story We Got Sold. Tenthani, ironically, was the first to congratulate me on phone. Since the function was neither aired live on TV nor on radio, I was surprised how he had known. He later told me that he had learnt the news through Facebook. A friend of mine present at the function had posted, and he had seen. Lesson number one: As a journalist follow even the littlest of happenings.
“Get me at Sportsman’s Bar.”
“Where is that?”
“Mount Soche Hotel.”
Being a Friday, Sportsman’s was almost full the time I entered. It was around 6:30 in the evening. I threw my eyes around in search for Ralph to no avail. Then I saw him, perched at a corner – which to-date I refer to as Ralph Tenthani’s Corner. He had to his right a glass of wine, to his left two dailies The Nation and The Daily Times, and on the centre his laptop connected to very fast mobile internet.
By then, they had with Malawian writer Stanley Onjezani Kenani and filmmaker Charles Shemu Joyah and others just created malawiwrite.org, an online platform that was supposed to help promote local writing. So, Ralph had first asked if I could share the story before he apologized about his failure to make it on time earlier in the day.
And then we talked about books again, as he typed the draft of that weekend’s ‘Muckraking on Sunday.’ I later learnt, through journalists Felix Mponda and Temwani Mgunda that that was actually how he worked.
So, while I got knocked down with the beers he bought me, his column took shape. And, when we left at around four in the morning, the draft was done – ready for final editing.
But the escapades of that day taught me a lot about Ralph, and the importance of having a particular school thought to govern your life. Ralph, the intellectual, taught me you will always have ‘haters’ in life and that people will always talk. But, nevertheless, he said, life must move on.
So, that day I did not only learn about the importance of wide reading in one’s progress as a journalist and writer. I did not only learn about the need for Malawian journalists to sharpen their skills for exciting and enriching news reading and listening.
That night Ralph, who like Jika Nkolokosa I regarded as a walking encyclopedia and a talking dictionary of journalism, taught me to be fearless on matters of truth and national importance. Above all, he said, as a budding journalist I must set my own principles and be disciplined.
When I was promoted to Nyasa Times Senior Sub-Editor about two months ago, he called me around1:00 am to congratulate me on my ascendancy and insisted I should use my position to make sure that online publications in the country get the recognition they ought to be getting. We are all readingNyasa Times and other online news portals than anything aren’t we, he asked?
Ralph and I last telephoned about seven days ago. He had called so that I could help him with contacts for CSOs and activists in Karonga that are tirelessly fighting Paladin.
I did. And he said for the gesture two crates of Carlsberg green awaited me at Sportsman’s.
It was devastating, therefore, when I heard about Ralph’s demise Saturday night. It is not the two crates of Carlsberg green I will miss. But rather his wisdom, exceptional intellect and rare humour.
As his remains get interred today, at his Sharp Valle Village in Ntcheu, my thoughts are with his wife Josephine – whom he fondly called superwoman – and his three kids, especially Raphael Junior – whom he also fondly talked about.
Until we meet again in God’s glory, Ralph, Rest in Eternal Peace.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :