Understanding Mzati Nkolokosa, genesis of his ideas

By Ganizani Desmond, blogger

“They are jealous of me because I drive a Prado,” Mzati Nkolokosa told me at our church one day, almost eleven months ago. “They phone the ministers, saying ‘Give us his job! We can do it better.’”

This was a response to my advice that he was going down a wrong lane. Desert ‘Mzati’ Nkolokosa was once a revered journalists in Malawi. He wrote articles that resonated with the majority of Malawians. His five years at The Nation were memorable. Here is what he wrote in 2008, reproduced in full:

Excellent Journalism

By Mzati Nkolokosa, Thursday, July 17, 2008

Who interviewsHetherwick Ntaba?

 There is a secretary-general of a certain political party in a certain country that adopted multiparty democracy last month, 15 years ago.There is also a certain public broadcaster that carries what it calls interviews of that certain secretary-general.

Mzati Nkotokola

Well, let me use names. Dr Hetherwick Ntaba, the secretary-general of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is still a powerful speaker although not as powerful as years ago. One United Democratic Front (UDF) official once described Ntaba as “amuna omwe amati akaima mu Parliament, if tonse mmimba chururururu” meaning Ntaba was an eloquent opposition MP who shook the government side in Parliament.

That Ntaba is different from the one we have today. It seems Ntaba is better at attacking than defending. And it seems true of Nicholas Dausi.

But the matter today is on radio interviews Ntaba gives state broadcaster MBC.This is a familiar situation because it goes like this, almost always:”The Democratic Progressive Party has dismissed/refuted/denied/described the opposition parties as….. The DPP’s secretary-general spoke with MBC.”

Next comes Ntaba speaking. He still uses long, complex sentences and the punctuation can be heard. He has maintained his eloquence on sentence construction. What he has lost is the ability to attack tactfully as he didyears ago.

He refutes and attacks the opposition as long as he can. No question, no journalist. Who interviews Ntaba? Is there a journalist at all? I don’t know.If there was one there would have been one or two questions. Or am I being unnecessarily inquisitive?

In the absence of a concrete answer, Ntaba leaves people to assume that he has a recorder at home and records himself at home or office. So, imagine this: The secretary-general is enjoying a well-deserved siesta on a Sunday afternoon. He has just had a three course meal.Then his phone rings. The DPP Treasurer-general calls, saying there is some bad news from opposition parties on some radio stations. Immediately Ntaba wakes up, tunes in to the radio and by chance, he listens to the item.

He thinks for a few minutes and gets his recorder and speaks into it as much as he can and calls some MBC boss to send a reporter to collect the tape for broadcast. Now in that situation how does MBC put across the news item?

The practical way is to say Ntaba spoke with MBC. But honestly, this is aprofessional dilemma and I sympathise with friends at MBC. But what can they do?

Or picture this one: Ntaba does not have a recorder at home but when he has an issue to refute/deny/attack and all that he calls MBC and a reporter rushes to Ntaba’s office. “Sit here,” says Ntaba. “Thank you, Sir,” responds the reporter from MBC. The youngman or woman from MBC sets his machine and Ntaba is recorded. He speaks for as long as he can and once through asks the reporter to play the tape or reel or whatever so that he listens. Satisfied, he dismisses the reporter in peace.

If not any of the two assumptions, then I don’t know. These are just assumptions out of curiosity. Perhaps Ntaba may wish to change tactics, to speak and be asked questions since that makes communication complete. Language is by nature a two-person business. There should be a speaker and listener, one should speak and another listen. In a moment, there should be an exchange of roles. The speaker should pause to listen. Some free lesson here for Ntaba and some of his colleagues who believe their system is working.

My plain view is that the DPP’s secretary-general has some work to do as far as persuasive communication is concerned. Communication is a two-way process, Sir,and from your medical background, you should understand this rule. Make it sound like someone is asking you questions, just to give people an illusion that there is some communication going on.

To understand the evolution of the ideas of Desert ‘Mzati’ Nkolokosa, one has to understand where he is coming from and where he is going.

He struggled for years repeating Form 4 at an MCDE (MalawiCollege of Distance Education) institution before passing the University Entrance examinations to enter the Malawi Polytechnic, where he studied Bachelorof Arts (Journalism). He was among the first students to enroll for this programme.

During the four years at the Polytechnic, Mzati – or Desert,which is the name on his certificate – struggled and sat for supplementary exams every semester. It was a huge relief when he obtained the degree.

He later got a part-time job lecturing Introduction to Journalism (a fourth-year course) at ChancellorCollege, while working for The Nation. Emily,a former student of his in the class of 2005, says: “We used to call him Cold Fish. His classes were always dull and boring and full of self-praise.”

Adds Emily: “During his lectures, he liked quoting great writers but one could tell we knew far more than he did.” True, Mzati always wants to pose like some intellectual heavyweight, quoting great books to spice up his writings. “His class was on a Friday afternoon for two hours – and imagine the boredom! He would just stand in the same place – so dead. Then he would go on and on blowing his own trumpet!”

Part of the self-praise was his tendency to frequently liken himself to Fareed Zakaria. He genuinely believes he is the best journalist in Malawi and often appoints himself judge over others. He publicly declared Emily Mkamanga, for instance, a bad writer.

Mzati Nkolokosa was to later attempt to study for a Master’s degree at Chancellor College, which he failed.

He quickly befriended Bright Malopa when the latter was appointed Director-General of Television Malawi. He was offered a job, and a new Mzati Nkolokosa was born. From being objective, he began to declare anybody who opposes Bingu wa Mutharika an enemy.

His recent attack on the Northerners is a result of his insecurities. He always fears his job will be taken away from him, that he will lose his Prado. He wants to outdo everyone in overzealousness, trying to please the President.

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