Malawian godfather of photography dies

By Lucky Mkandawire 

Malawian photographers have been mourning the demise of one of the country’s photography kingpins, Mitunda Mbeta who died Sunday morning at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital in Blantyre.

He had been suffering from diabetes and sight complications for sometime, according to family members.

Thousands of people from all walks of life converged at the late Mbeta’s residence in Likhubula, Blantyre on Sunday through Monday to pay their last respects to a man who contributed greatly to the revolution of photography in Malawi.

Survived by a wife, also a photographer, children and grandchildren, the veteran photographer was laid to rest at his home village Nyungwe in Chiradzulu District on Monday afternoon.

Mbeta: No more

“He will be greatly missed by the photographers’ community. He was the godfather of the photography in the country, very generous and a man of few words whose works captivated and inspired so many people of different status. He was among few Malawian photographers who have decorated photography in the country,” mourned another veteran photojournalist Dick Mlanzie in an interview.

The late Mbeta started photography in 1959 while still at school and three years later he opened the once popular International Star Studio in Limbe before moving it to Blantyre Central Business District in 1964.

For many years, his studio which he run together with his wife was a mainstay of Malawian photography and became very popular across the country because of the passport sized photographs which late Mbeta seemed to have mastered in.

Through his studio and his professionalism, late Mbeta contributed greatly to the country’s photographic development and his work today remains a tribute to its growth.

Last year, the veteran photographer told a local arts and culture magazine, The Arts, he had all through enjoyed his career as a photographer despite challenges encountered with security officials, particularly during the reign of the first Malawian President Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda.

“As a child, I was always fascinated when I saw someone making photographs. So when I was still in school I bought my first camera in 1958. Since then I have enjoyed every moment of my photography until two years ago [2008] when I called it a day,” the magazine quoted late Mbeta.

Among the greatest photographs he cherished during his life were those of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth 11 and the late head of the Catholic Church in the world, Pope John Paul 11 when they visited Malawi in the 1990s.

Until his death on Sunday, late Mbeta, a successful businessman with several properties including a grocery shop, building construction company and houses for rent, was a senior member of the Diabetes Association of Malawi and was also a founding member of the Photographers Association of Malawi (PHOTAMA) in 1998.

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