Lilongwe, December 31: When the Vipya sank 68 years ago, killing nearly 150 of the people aboard the ship, one person the tragedy would haunt for years was a school teacher, then aged 31.
The passenger ship MV Vipya capsized on Lake Malawi, then known as Lake Nyasa, in a storm near Chilumba in Karonga on July 30 1946, drowning 145 of the 194 passengers and crew on board.
The tragedy had a bearing on one school in the northern region–some of the passengers on the ill-fated ship’s fourth voyage since her first trip a month earlier were pupils from the school.
A few days before the Vipya sank, some pupils at Luwazi Mission School of the Seventh Day Adventist (SDA) Church in Nkhata-Bay got into trouble when they were given punishment for mischief.
The school at the time had a garden in which it grew groundnuts and would store it in a barn after harvest. The school would then grind the groundnut into flour to give flavor to the pupils’ relish.
But unknown to the authorities, some pupils were stealing groundnuts from the barn, until when it was discovered the crop had dwindled in quantity. Meanwhile, pupils would be seen eating groundnuts.
When the person who was responsible for the garden was asked where the pupils where getting the groundnuts they were eating, he said he did not know, prompting an investigation to be instituted.
The investigation revealed that 14 pupils were responsible for the theft. The school head, a white man, told the pupils to choose between going home and each one digging an 18-foot latrine as a punishment.
The errant pupils, who were from Karonga, chose to go home rather than dig the latrines. The decision the pupils made did not please one teacher, Pastor Patrick Ziba who wanted them to continue schooling.
Before they left for their homes, Pastor Ziba asked the 14 pupils to go to his house where he and his wife pleaded with them not to go home but to do the punishment instead and remain at school.
Pastor Ziba and his wife did all they could to persuade the pupils to rescind their decision, but the pleas fell on deaf ears. On July 27 1946, the pupils left for Nkhata Bay to board the Vipya on their way home.
On July 28, Pastor Ziba, who greatly valued education and still felt he needed to do something to bring back the pupils, followed them. He walked 24 Kilometres from the mission to the port.
“He found the pupils at the port and again pleaded with them to return to school,” Mrs. Margaret Limbe, Pastor Ziba’s fifth born child, told Mana. “He spent the whole day trying to reason with them.”
Before the ship arrived, a worried Pastor Ziba asked the pupils if they had enough money for their tickets. Six of them told him they had money for their fares, while eight said they did not.
When the Vipya moored at the quay at 2 pm for her northward trip, the six pupils who had money boarded her, while the other eight went in search of piece work to raise money for their fares.
On July 30, there came news to the effect that the Vipya had capsized around Chilumba, killing 145 of the passengers. Of the six Luwazi pupils who were aboard the ship, only two survived.
Pastor Ziba, according to Mrs. Limbe, was so devastated by the news that for years, he would blame himself for not having done enough to prevent the deaths of the other pupils.
“Our father never tired of telling his children the story as a moral lesson that it pays to be obedient in life,” said Mrs. Limbe. “He has told us the story countless times from the time the tragedy happened.”
And recently on his 100th birthday, Pastor Ziba could not let the event go without telling the story of the 14 pupils and how bad he had felt all along that some of them perished with the sinking of the Vipya.
Dressed in a black suit, black bow tie and his trade mark trilby that he has worn since 1936, he repeated the gripping story to the more than 150 guests at the birthday party at the Mzuzu Hotel last Sunday.
The guests included Malawi’s first female Cabinet Minister, Rose Chibambo (nee Ziba), children and grandchildren. Some of the relations travelled from abroad for the birthday party.
Pastor Ziba has all his life been known as a selfless person who is always willing to render assistance to anyone in need, whether a relation or not, as shown by his desire to help the 14 Luwazi pupils.
It is this virtue of willingness to help others that made the retired pastor popular wherever he lived, doing God’s work. He may have retired today from preaching, but people still speak highly of him.
Chibambo, who fled to Zambia after the 1964 cabinet crisis, said she always remembered Pastor Ziba while she was in exile. She described him as a loving parent and a great man “whom we all love.”
“I have known him since I was six years old,” said Chibambo in her speech during Pastor Ziba’s birthday party. “Even when I was in exile, I always thought about him. Adada [father] is a great man.”
Chibambo, who is approaching her 80s, added: “I am happy that my father is around. At my age, he is the only one I can call father. I wish him many more years.”
The last born of four children, Pastor Patrick Chandamuka Ziba was born at Kafukule in the area of Traditional Authority Mthwalo in Mzimba in 1915. He attended school at Luwazi Mission.
In 1939, Pastor Ziba got married to Vickiness Jere and proceeded to train as a teacher at Malamulo Mission in Thyolo District before he returned to Luwazi to start his teaching career.
It was while at Luwazi Mission School that he found his ministerial calling. He pastored at Luwazi Mission Church at three different times for a total of 14 years, serving as the mission’s administrator.
After teaching at Luwazi Mission School, he went to Solusi College in Zimbabwe to get his formal ministerial training.
When he returned to Malawi, Pastor Ziba pastored at Ighembe SDA Church in Karonga for seven years. While in Karonga, he travelled to Tanzania, Chitipa, Rumphi and Mzimba spreading the word of God.
In 1974, he went to Chisemphere in Kasungu to help rebuild and revive the Chisemphere SDA Church. While at Chisemphere, he travelled throughout the central region conducting spiritual camp meetings.
In 1979, he pastored at Enumwini SDA Church in Mzimba for three years before he was called back to Luwazi where he served till his retirement.
In 1994, Pastor Ziba travelled to the USA where he preached in California and at Yakima in the State of Washington.
Rennie Zumazuma, one of Pastor Ziba’s daughters, presented to her father an honorary plaque that she brought with her from the All Nations African Church in the USA where he lives.
“The plaque is in recognition of the work he did in the USA where he went to preach the word of God,” said Mrs. Zumazuma, who was born in Solusi in Zimbabwe. “I feel blessed to have him as a father.”
A widower, Pastor Ziba walks unaided, speaks effortlessly and does not wear spectacles, belying his 100 years. He is recognized by his smartness and a hat he has worn since 1936.
People who have visited him at his home in Kafukule speak of how smart he looks all the time, despite his advanced years. The good comments people make about his smartness are not lost on him.
Pastor Ziba said: “I was a teacher and I have to be exemplary all the time. I hate wearing dirty clothes. As for the hat, some people used to tell me that the longer you wear a hat, the more hair you lose.
“I would simply laugh and tell them I would never stop wearing my hat. I would tell them let me lose my hair rather than stop wearing my hat.”
Pastor Ziba said he had lived in the Tonga land for many years and knew what smartness entailed. He said to him, to be smart means wearing a suit, necktie and a hat at all times.
Asked about the secret behind his longevity at a time when life expectancy of Malawians is 58.04 for males and 61.97 for females, Pastor Ziba said he simply looks after himself.
“I do not believe in traditional medicine. I neither drink nor smoke. As for my diet, I like simple food such as rice porridge and kondoole [cassava thick porridge]. To reach 100 years is not a joke,” he said.
Pastor Ziba, who was blessed with nine children of whom five are alive, added with a sorrowful look: “Most of my age mates at Kafukule are gone.”