“Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul. 4 And Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was on him and gave it to David, and his armor, and even his sword and his bow and his belt. 5 And David went out and was successful…. — 1 Samuel 18: 3-5
If I could turn back the time and redo a day this year, it would be Friday, February 5, 2021. This is the day my best friend in the media profession Felix Mponda died. Passed away. Gone. His death on this day, six hours after I had responded to his WhatsApp post in the Veteran Journalists WhatsApp Forum, reduced me to howling, hurt, in great pain, anguished, and in massive grief, shock, and torment beyond measure. Much of my despair was due to the fact that in these past years every time I was this devastated, it was Felix to whom I turned.
When I was upset, confused, afraid, grief-stricken, or happy and over-joyed in a triumphant mood, he was my “to-go-to friend.” Always. His quiet, jovial manner quickly always spoke words of advice, suggestion, or he simply told me to throw away the concern in the dust bin. Almost always, it was a piece of good, workable advice.
For 39 years, Felix was truly my best friend; one tribute on social media captured, among many accolades, was that Felix “mobilized, organized, and led by example.” He was a phenomenal, trailblazer media professional with a large footprint in the hall of Malawi patriots. To me, he was my media professional colleague, friend, quickly and permanently turned relative.
The first time I met Felix Mponda, while he was The Drum Beat columnist at the Daily Times, was in former Managing Editor (ME) Mike Kamwendo’s office. The ME told us that Felix, Roziliro Twea and I would share an office. Roziliro and I would oversee the new twice-weekly Women’s Page. He was the undeclared trainer, mentor and he quickly showed us the ropes of the profession. In time the soft-spoken Felix proved to be a giant as a trainer, convincingly persuasive and even introduced us to his Nancholi-based family.
One day Felix walked up to me as I sat at my desk in the Daily Times and convinced me that it would be to my advantage for me to type my own articles; I should not rely on the company’s typesetters. This advice, which I had reluctantly agreed to, prepared me for the age of using the personal computers
Other people that joined the Daily Times in 1982, were former Chancellor College colleagues like Robert Chilenga, Raphael Banda, and Easton Thyoka-Phiri. While their desks were in the newsroom, Felix, Rose, and I were in one office.
The professional connection between Felix and I moved to a long-lasting friendship, turned into kinship when I became pregnant and was hospitalized for seven days. On the second day, Felix and his wife Rosemary came to see me at QECH, Rosemary carried a bag with porridge and a flask of coffee for me. This sealed the kinship that enveloped our extended families and our children. We attend each other’s funeral, weddings, celebrated each other’s successes and cringed at any downturns.
Felix left the Daily Times and worked briefly for the Commercial Bank of Malawi before he became a freelance journalist for AFP, a French newswire service. I too later left the Daily Times to open a laundromat. It was Mponda who advised me that because I had amassed too much of a readership following, and had acquired great journalistic skills, I could not just enter another sector.
Felix advised me to open my own publishing company and produce a women’s magazine. This thought was further endorsed by my husband, who had his own advice: “Ask Felix to go into the venture with you as your partner.” Hence Felix and I registered Now Publications, the company that launched the country’s first women’s magazine called Woman Now.
The highlight of the magazine was working with Felix to help a Malawian woman (name withheld) to secure sponsorship from the South African High Commission to finance her daughter’s open-heart surgery in South Africa. Felix later left Now Publications and partnered with Willie Zingani to publish the New Express. The first edition printed in Zambia, was upon arrival, quickly confiscated by the Malawi Police, and Felix imprisoned.
His parents sent his brothers to my office to ask me to help secure the release of their son, whose wife was expecting their last-born child. This was in 1992, the Life President, Ngwazi Dr. H. Kamuzu Banda was in a foul mood at the multi-party democracy advocates pronouncements in the first edition of the New Express was from cover to cover. The entire newspaper was filled with calls for democracy, in the same lines as The Democrat. The only difference was that The Democrat although on Malawi issues and distributed in Malawi was printed in Zambia, and its editors were in Zambia.
I was scared for about two hours; afterward, I made calls to the United States Information Service Director Chip Barkley, who asked me to also call his counterpart at the British Council. Thereafter, I was brave enough to call the then Inspector-General McWilliam Lunguzi. Felix was released after the international community cried for his release; it was also after the birth of his last-born daughter, whom I was honored to choose her name. She was named Zsa Zsa.
A year later, Felix walked me through the intricacies of newspaper publishing when I ventured into publishing The Independent. Felix’s mentorship remained throughout the years; we attended workshops in and outside Malawi. His mentorship reached a crescendo when after I called him and relayed that I had been threatened by three high-level UDF officials at the Constitutional Review Conference. He advised me to launch a full-blown public outcry and inform the Conference organizers, police, politicians, and the media. This culminated in interviews on broadcast and print media.
It also led to two cabinet ministers, namely Joyce Banda (foreign affairs) and Patricia Kaliati (Information) who took up the issue by asking the police to secure my security at the conference, mentioning it at every rally that Kaliati attended with the President, and a Presidential brief landing on the desk of the late President Bingu Mutharika.
Sometime later I secured a posting in the diplomatic service and Felix kept his relationship with my family, visiting my parents in Maoni and Mpemba, working with my brother George and wife Rose, his fellow Catholics. He and Rose were always present and were part of the organizing committee for all my sons’ and daughters’ weddings, and my parent’s 60th wedding anniversary festivities at Mount Soche. Topping this momentous event was when Felix and his wife assisted my family and me to prepare the second 60th Wedding anniversary celebrations for my parents at Sanjika Palace hosted by President Bingu wa Mutharika and First Lady Madame Callista Mutharika.
Amidst the endless tears, anguish, and howling, I have been going through since I learned of his death, I look back to the 39 years and I am uplifted up to have had such a great professional colleague, friend, and relatively called Felix Mponda. Rest in God’s eternal peace (RIGELP).
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