Raphael Tenthani, the veteran Malawian journalist and writer has died. He was involved in a car accident yesterday, and media reports say that two of his children who were with him in the car, are currently hospitalised with serious injuries.
This is very sad news for Malawi because Tenthani was a respected and experienced journalist who had been a solid and dependable feature of Malawi’s media landscape for many years; one of those rare ‘kick-ass’ journalists who truly commanded the attention of the people, their respect (for some begrudgingly) and was able to ask the difficult questions that mattered.
Through his column in the Sunday Times titled Muckraking on Sunday, and adopting the name ‘the muckraker‘ Tenthani spoke to power from the highest pedestal journalism in Malawi could muster. He ridiculed the ridiculous, mocked mediocrity, questioned the obscure, and laughed at the bizarre. Indeed many of us enjoyed his musings, many others were inspired, and it is true to say we will miss him.
And despite his colourful language, he was also a serious journalist capable of dissecting the intricate issues, as this article from a piece he wrote, titled Chibwana’s day of infamy, in July 2013 demonstrates. Tenthani knew how to separate politics from other aspects of life in his commentary, and was first to rebuke those who couldn’t see more clearly.
Here was a man who was clearly at peace with himself, who understood the responsibility that came with his job, the balancing of issues it required, the independence of thought it demanded – who was not afraid of offending the powers that be when undertaking such responsibility.
Thankfully his job had an international dimension – so it gave him a unique perspective (as well as respect) and a better appreciation of events in Malawi and internationally. He was unique and there will not be another quite like him.
Many others no doubt were compelled to follow his commentary. On twitter, 3,322 people paid attention to what he had to say, 4,992 tuned in to him on Facebook. His last tweet, posted on April 23 read:
Inevitably, his style, as stinging as it was, made him some enemies – some jealous at his success, others seeking to silence him. Most of such attacks focused on the delivery, not the substance. No surprise then that the muckraker blazed on…. and many of us are glad he did.
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Power needs to be exercised responsibly, but unfortunately that doesn’t happen automatically. Without an independent press, the prefects of the school of politics (and their headboys/ headgirls) can become bullies of the same students they are meant to represent; they can begin to rule with impunity.
In Marxist theory for example, we are told that when the proletariat organise and appoint leaders, sooner or later those leaders drunk with power and in the absence of sufficient checks, can become the oppressors of the people they are meant to represent – a scenario that has been replicated numerous times throughout history. Similarly, in Capitalist society, we often hear of accusations alleging that big business and party funders in an unholy cabal with corrupt bigwigs at the heart of government influence government policy at the expense of the people, all for profit.
All of which necessitates an independent check on power; one that is far removed from the elite clubs of the judiciary, the legislature and the executive. Someone or something to scream:-
‘You can’t do that!‘….’Liar! Liar…Liar!’….’That’s against the law you fool’.
Or: ‘Here is a national cause worth considering‘
This somewhat biased communicative refereeing is one of the roles of the press. Or rather, it should be the role of the press, siding with the weak and vulnerable, to ensure the mighty and powerful are accountable for their actions. After all, politicians are elected to office to represent the people, so it’s important to ensure they are doing what they are supposed to be doing.
I believe Tenthani performed this role very well.
So today, as Tenthani’s burnt-out torch lies abandoned, as the gale of death has violently and suddenly swept his life away, as his star has fallen to the ground, please allow me to ask who will now carry his torch?
Who will pick it up and re-ignite it? Who stands ready to continue the fight against greed and corruption? Who will question authority on behalf of the people of Malawi? Who will walk in the steps of Tenthani – demanding answers on the Malawi Savings Bank issue, demanding the prosecution of cashgate suspects, demanding the truth about the K92 billion DPP is accused of misappropriating? Who will continue to hold power accountable? To demand the necessary changes that our country desperately needs …improving the security situation on our streets, improving the health sector so that hospitals have medicines and employ competent well-paid staff; in the Judiciary – which must be impartial irrespective of who is in power; in Education and job creation…… who will take up this mantle and begin asking these questions fervently…without bias, or political favour…?
Who will be the new muckraker?