“No great genius
has ever existed
some touch of madness”
Friday, April 6, 2012: Exactly two years ago today we were still in limbo about whether our president had died, was very sick in a Jo’burg hospital or was enjoying some bliss Down Under in his favourite holiday pad of Perth or in the Algarve in Portugal or partaking of champagne and caviar somewhere in the Far East.
I remember it was a slow Thursday. Nothing of any significance was happening, so I lay in bed not wishing to wake up any time soon.
…Until a friend almost hysterically called me to ask whether “I have heard”.
“Heard what?” I wondered.
“What about Bingu?”
It was just before 11 o’clock in the morning. By then Bingu had been making some real crazy pronouncements. I remember a few weeks back, on March 6 to be precise, the President had just made his “meet me in the streets” pronouncement.
His blue-eyed boys (and girl) Bintony Kutsaira, Luscious Kanyumba, Patricia Kaliati and Heatherwick Ntaba tried unsuccessfully to explain what the Big Kahuna had meant.
But we knew what he meant. In fact he did not try to coat his message in niceties. He did not mince his words when he said: “The MCP didn’t allow Kamuzu to be abused; the UDF didn’t allow Bakili to be abused, why are you letting ‘them’ to abuse me without doing anything?”
So however Kutsaira or Kanyumba tried to twist and explain away Bingu’s message, we heard it for ourselves; it was a call to arms to his unofficial militia to deal with all those who dared raise a finger against him.
So when my friend called me to talk about Bingu that early Thursday morning I thought: “What is the old dude up to again?”
“Someone tells me Bingu has been taken ill,” the friend continued. “He is at KamuzuCentralHospital now.”
That did not jolt me that much. After all online media had “killed” Bingu more than three times before.
But I could not just dismiss that information outright. I called a friend at KCH and how he answered me made the journalist in me spring in action.
“Zotolana mkamwa ai,” he told me not to ‘put words in his mouth’ even before I greeted him.
That told me something was amiss big time.
I scrambled out of bed and started working the phones.
I first called Ken Lipenga, who convinced me he genuinely knew nothing. Then I called Patricia Kaliati, then official government mouthpiece. Her phone rang and rang, no answer.
But a journalist friend of mine in Lilongwe told me a new police check had quickly sprung up on the road between KCH roundabout and Kawale.
“Something is going on, but I am not sure what,” this friend told me.
Meanwhile, friends in Lilongwe confirmed sightings of unusual build up of ministers, DPP MPs and presidential aides at KCH.
By now I knew this was certainly not ‘business as usual’. By 1pm someone confirmed seeing Callista Mutharika, the First Lady, being helped into a waiting vehicle fighting back tears.
The President was dead…
…But not officially.
MBC, the official broadcaster, continued as if nothing was afoot.
So Thursday gave way to Friday, no announcement until 11pm when six ministers took to the microphone to assure the anxious nation that the President was under the weather, of course, but was being taken care of in a clinic in Johannesburg.
“Let’s pray for him,” Kaliati, who was among the ‘Midnight Night Six’, implored us.
This was when I realised that Malawians had had enough of Bingu. The setting was Mount Soche Hotel’s Sportsman’s Bar. A live band was playing. When the ‘Midnight Six’ came on the tube the band was asked to stop playing. By then everybody knew Bingu was dead but we wanted an official confirmation so when the ‘Midnight Six’ did not confirm the news the revellers went wild.
Friday gave way to Saturday. Government was stillprocrastinating about the status of Bingu. Meanwhile, we heard later they tried to beat life back into Bingu to the point of breaking his ribs. They even christened his corpse ‘Daniel Phiri’ as they tried to smuggle him to Johannesburg to resuscitate him.
But Bingu’s time was up. On Saturday, April 7, 2012, the lame-duck government finally ate the humble pie and announced Bingu was dead.
The rest, as they say, is history.