By Sunduzwayo Madise
A spin doctor is defined as a political press agent or publicist employed to promote a favourable interpretation of events to journalists. But why spin? The terms seems to come out from the works of James Hardy Vaux's A new and comprehensive vocabulary of the flash language, in 1812:
Yarning or spinning a yarn, signifying to relate their various adventures, exploits, and escapes to each other.
So traditionally party or government spokespersons have donned the title of spin doctors. Others have been more successful at it, making an almost lifelong career out of it. One that quickly comes to mind in Malawi is the supremely eloquent Heatherwick Ntaba, a medical doctor but more known for his oratory skills. No wonder in his hey days he run a successful disco; spinning the vinyl discs and mesmerising patrons.
But today we have a special spin doctor to discuss, one Kondwani Nankhumwa, spokesperson of the Malawi Government by virtue of being the Minister of Information.
On 9th May, 2015, President Peter Mutharika (APM) led a memorial service of his brother Bingu, who died in office (in rather controversial circumstances) in April 2012. I have been to the mausoleum that Bingu built for his wife and for himself (when his time would come) and I must say I was highly impressed. A true final place of resting. Now that does not mean that when the lesser of us mortals pass on, there shall be no resting (actually there may not be resting, but burning or gnashing of teeth), but one must give credit to the vision of Bingu to prepare his own death and a befitting final resting place. Visionary man, that langwani was.
Now I do not know what concoction Kondwani had early that morning, but whatever it was it really excited him. Traditionally before the President takes to the podium, a few mkupamames must speak and say various things to the gathering, as well as to the President. This has not started with APM. It has been with us since the times of Kamuzu. We are sort of used to it (even though we really should not). It is part of our political ‘set-up’.
So in a bout of excitement, Kondwani pulls out a tabloid called The Eye Witness with the headlines “Bingu to die before 2014 Veep”. Now veep is a well-known short form for the vice, in this case vice president. The Vice President just before Bingu’s death was Joyce Banda, popularly known as JB. Now Kondwani did not stop there but claimed to be in possession of a document entitled “JB Project”. Now you do not need rocket science to draw the direct inference that Kondwani was making here. The fact that JB was not mentioned by name is non consequential. The inference in the minds of all right-thinking people is that it was JB who was behind the death of Bingu. And yes, for it to be murder there would have to be a motive. The implication here being that JB would have a good motive to take over as president! Now I hope Kondwani understands the law of defamation properly. Innuendo is as much defamation as calling a person by their name. So by referring to an alleged statement made by a “Veep” and in the same sentences throwing in the JB acronym, the damage is done.
Maybe after realising that he may have gone too far, the press has him today showing more details of the so-called “JB project” in which allegedly even JB was supposed to be toppled. I now see more of spinning at play here. But does that prove murder? No it doesn’t. In fact at law, the fact that a person comes forward to confess a crime, especially murder, is not proof that the person actually committed the crime! In any event, what is exactly is the authenticity of this newspaper called The Eye Witness? Who owns or owned this paper? He claims the article was published in 2011. This would have to be verified by forensic evidence. Waving a paper does not prove anything on its own. And to make matters even more confusing, the document released by Nyasatimes says “A Brief of a Meeting We had today 20th August, 2014 on the JP Project” signed by one “Edgar Saukila”. Now unless I am very much mistaken, Bingu died on 5th April 2012, and there is no way a meeting to plot against him could have occurred in 2014. And I hope there is no real person by the name of Edgar Saukila who feels that he has been defamed. In fact there maybe many of them. They too would surely have be able to sustain a claim of defamation.
While I am at it, I have noted that DPP die-hards seem to be labouring under the mistaken belief that anyone who was not DPP hated Bingu. That is fallacious thinking. People may have disagreed with Bingu over his policies or the manner in which he was running the country. That does not make people hate him. They are people who just have no interest in politics anyway. This is not unique to Malawi. However, that does not take away that Bingu was a visionary. It is the same thing about Kamuzu. Kamuzu was a visionary extraordinaire. But many disagreed with his means and methods including his autocratic rule. But even those who disagreed with him still acknowledge the foundations he laid for this country. The same goes for Bingu. History cannot erase his achievements. I recall leading an observer mission for the 2009 Elections and I can say they reminded me of the 1994 elections. People came early to vote and turned up in huge numbers. No wonder Bingu got votes from all corners of the country. The country believed in his vision. In the same vein, disagreeing with APM or the DPP does not mean hatred amangwetu. We must learn to agree to disagree, that is the essence of democracy. In any event, APM was given a 5 year mandate by the majority of Malawians who cast their vote last year. Not everyone did vote for him though. But what is more important is that he won the presidency. He is the President. That is all that really matters.
Now if Kondwani must know, he is not the only one that had questions about the death of our former President. I also have mine. I am sure so do many others. I have questions about the role of a certain prophet in all this. I recall Nicholas Dausi also raised these questions. But does that mean Bingu was murdered? No it doesn’t. Yes it raises questions about his death and makes it controversial. But he of all people must know where the real controversy came in. It was after the doctors at Kamuzu Central Hospital (KCH) had pronounced Bingu dead on arrival that the country was subjected to a roller coaster of a badly written script. But we have gone past that and Kondwani should not take us back. We need to move forward. So until there is evidence to prove the contrary, we must accept the verdict of the medical profession that Bingu died of a cardiac arrest. In fact cardiac arrest is nothing new. Kondwani should know better. However it maybe the old-age African belief that people do not just die, they are killed that seems to be troubling him. It is also important to realise the implications of what Kondwani is suggesting. He is saying the medical officers at KCH and those in South Africa are part of the conspiracy. He is saying the whole commission of enquiry into his death was a conspiracy. He is questioning the faithfulness of Bingu’s personal physician, security and members of his household. He is in fact questioning all those who were around Bingu. At this point it may be worth reminding him who was actually in charge of events during those moments of zizwezwe as one Henry Mussa admitted. Does he know the full implication of his call to ‘investigate the matter?’ It would require exhuming the body of Bingu and carrying out tests to see if they was any foul play. Does he really want to subject Bingu to this? Does Bingu deserve this?
So yes, Kondwani, you may be angry that Bingu died in the manner he did. But why should you? Question yes you must but never be angry my friend. Accept certain things that fate throws at us. Who are you, who are we to question the manner of Bingu’s death? Do we really know how each of us will die? By bringing this issue up, and especially at a function to commemorate his legacy, you are doing a disservice to the memory of Bingu. Let Bingu rest. He deserves at least that in his death.