I am still getting to grips as to what may have happened to Raphael Tenthani, aka Raph-10, on that fateful Saturday night. I first got the news from distance afar, the UK. All the ill-fated whatsapp message said was “I hear RaphTenthani is no more”. My response was “Whaaat?” And the response came “confirmed, he was involved in a car accident; his two kids have survived but he didn’t survive.” Ouch!
I took to the social media, Facebook, and what I said there was “is what I’m hearing about Raph Tenthani, the muckraker, correct?” A few responses came, some of them confirming the news; others were also wondering as to what I may have heard.
I read the tribute from one Steve Sharra on Nyasa Times with keen interest because he was one of the few that sent me a private a message as to what I had heard. Steve’s tribute was an accomplished piece of writing; narrowing the great works of Raph 10 to a succinct and precise piece.
As for me, I encountered the Muckracker several times – during official duties as well as during times of merry-making – going slow and soft on life. But there are two occasions that have never quite left my mind.
One of them was on the event of July 20, 2011. The country had just gone through a share of hell. A few Malawians had lost their lives due to police violence, meted on them for the simple reason of exercising their right and freedom of “expression” and “demonstration”. The first call I got was from BBC London, from some lady that I can not quite remember. One Chakuchanya Harawa must have been listening in because immediately the line went dead, the phone rang again – and it was Chakuchanya at the other end. We talked and discussed the issue at hand. BBC wanted me to participate in a programme of “Have your say” and the topic under discussion was the just “ended” July 20, 2011 demonstrations. I was instructed to wait for a call from their Malawian correspondent to give me instructions on how it was all going to be. Not long after, Raph 10 was on the line instructing that as safely as I could, I should make way to Ryalls Hotel where a studio-like environment would be created for my part in the programme.
I used to live in Chinyonga then. I tried to take the road throughChitawira but it was impossible because the people there had just burnt tyres and police were on the alert to quell any further “chaos”. I turned and tried to use the highway and at the shoprite roundabout the police stopped me and told me sternly “if you love your car and your life, don’t proceed into the highway”. One literally saw smoke and chaos all the way to about Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital. I tried to explain to the police that I needed, urgently, to get to Ryalls Hotel for a very important meeting. I was lucky, the police said they were heading there so if I could drive right behind them – and another police vehicle will follow right behind me. We used the road that runs along Kamuzu Stadium, via the Southern Bottlers Plant – way up to Mwayiwathu Hospital – then boom, Ryalls Hotel. For once I appreciated the services of our police service.
Just as I pulled over to park, there he was, Raph 10. He whisked me into Ryalls Hotel and his gadgetry was already set. We were about 10 minutes away from starting the live programme. The equipment was tested, I talked to people who would be asking the questions in London – and yea, the scene had been set. Regarding the programme, the rest of it is now history.
Once done, Raph 10 and I shared a moment. Shared drinks and talked about so many other things affecting our country at the time. And one of his concluding remarks was “komalero a Ziba, mwatsukamkamwa”. All he simply meant to say was my contributions to the programme were significantly positive.
The second encounter was when Bingu had died (may his soul rest in peace). By this time I was Director of Information. Rumour had just started circulating that the Joyce Banda administration did not want me as Director of Information. Raph 10 called me and he went “Bwana Ziba, I hear you have been sacked as Director of Information, is that correct?” And all I said was “I am hearing that for the second time from you; the first time was also from a journalist. I am actually in my office and have not received any communication regarding my sacking.” He went “wow, just know that it is coming because I have it on good authority that Grey Mang’anda has been appointed Director of Information in your place.” My response was “well, everything happens for a reason, I will go where the public service demands me to go.” And then he went, “if tomorrow we have to write about your sacking, what would you say were your achievements at Information?” My response to that was “well, I think you, the people in the information industry, must judge my contributions – of course there would have been many more if I stayed.”
“Well Cheke, your time at information was very well spent, but you know your position has all the trappings of politics, good pal. Directors in that position come and Directors go, should you receive your sacking letter, be merry, be happy and do good wherever you go. Next time I’m in Lilongwe, let’s share a drink.”
Boom, Raph 10 was gone; the phone line went dead. That was on a Thursday afternoon. The following Saturday, what do I see and read on page 2 of Malawi News?“Cheke Ziba sacked as Director of Information”by Raphael Tenthani. The rest of that, as they say, is history.
Raph 10, my man, fare thee well and may your soul rest in eternal peace!.