I knew Ralph Tenthani around 1993/94. That time, Malawi was in transition, changing from single party dictatorship to a multiparty democracy.
One major development arising from this change was the emergence of newspapers. Malawi had previously been a closed society with just one major newspaper publishing company and a handful of journalists.
With the change, suddenly plenty of newspapers companies were opened but without there being journalism schools, there were very few properly trained journalists which meant anyone and everyone became and claimed to be journalist.
That is how Ralph and so many of us of his generation became ‘journalists.’ It was so easy.
To call yourself a journalist, all you needed was to be able to write a sentence or two and find some newspaper that could publish it. That is how we made our entry into the profession.
We were young, raw, untrained and unqualified, but it didn’t matter. We called ourselves journalists and had by-lines to show for it. On-the-job training became very important. People who had worked as journalists during single party era became our trainers.
Ralph cut his journalism teeth at a newspaper called The Independent, owned, edited and managed by Janet Karim while I started out at Al Osman’s Financial Post newspaper.
Ralph lived in Blantyre while I was in Lilongwe and we knew each other only through our by-lines before we met. As time passed, the excitement of being free to write anything one liked and call it journalism started to die down and seriousness started creeping into the media.
Slowly, newspapers started to get better, more organized and more professional. Less serious publications started to disappear on the market.
Ralph moved to The Nation newspaper and was transferred to the then newly opened Lilongwe bureau. That was when he became my buddy.
Ralph was later transferred back to Blantyre by The Nation before he later also worked as an editor for The Enquirer and the Business Telegraph newspapers.
By this time we had become so close that whenever I visited Blantyre, I slept at his house.
As years passed, our friendship only grew both on a professional and personal level.
I have been together with Ralph on media duties to most districts in Malawi. We have also travelled together to Johannesburg, South Africa and Mbabane, Swaziland.
I have also escorted to him to his village in Sharp Valley in Ntcheu. I know his children, his wife other members of his family. I know how he loved and valued them all and how they will be devastated by this death.
People who never had the opportunity some of us have had of personally knowing Ralph thought of him as being many things.
A picture was once posted on Facebook in which he was interviewing an activist. In that picture, Ralph looks grabby and disfigured, very unlike top notch BBC correspondent he is supposed to be.
Very uncomplimentary comments were made, including one from someone who wondered whether the BBC knows the person they have hired to be their reporter.
They say a camera does not lie, but I am afraid, that particular picture does not give a correct impression of who Raphael Tenthani really was. BBC is as high as it gets when it comes to being top quality international media house. The standards are so high that not anyone can work for them. Certainly not for as long as Ralph has.
Ralph is a consummate professional who achieved journalist greatness through sheer hard work. He was not exactly eloquent. In fact he was, by nature, an introvert who likes to keep to himself. You would not expect a person like that to have a career in radio journalism and for an A class institution like the BBC.
Ralph’s real strength was his writing. His ability to weave words into an explanation that helps the reader visualize what has happened, or is about to happen.
But over the years, he learned to shed off his introvert nature and be more of a people person. He improved his verbal delivery too and was able to voice his reports with ease after having struggled when he first joined the BBC.
By the time of death, he had become a true journalism great and an icon.
Not only was he a BBC correspondent, he also reported for international media organizations such as Associated Press (AP) and PANA as well as being a regular contributor to several international newspapers and magazines. Outside work, and on a personal level Ralph was a very generous person. The number of times he has pulled me out of financial trouble is countless. And he has done the same for numerous other people.
Ralph’s death is a tragedy. A national loss.
Malawi journalism will surely be poorer without him! In fact the Malawi nation is poorer without this great son who made it big from very humble beginnings.
I hope and pray that Malawi can remember and honour him as the national hero that he was.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :