A surprise gift as Chirwa reveals his background

Thu, 12 Jan 2017 14:41:59 +0000


By Philip Chirwa

It was happening like in a movie. The time was about 10.30 hours. I was seated in my office as Features Editor at Zambia Daily Mail when I received a message that  there was a visitor outside who wanted to see me. Imagine my surprise when I got out to find State House Commissioner of Police, Mr Ernest Nyirenda ,  seated alone in a black Mercedes Benz bearing a private number plate!

He was casually dressed as if it was a weekend. I deduced from his dressing and the fact  that he was driving a private number vehicle  that he did not intend to attract attention at the premises. As it was, I was the only one who recognized him as Mr Nyirenda, the Commissioner of Police at State House. Fortunately for him, there were no journalists standing outside that time, perhaps  they too would have recognized him.

“What an honour to receive such an important guest at this hour of the morning,” I remarked in greeting him. “How are you, sir, and  the family?”

“We are fine, thank you,” he replied. “I am in a hurry. Go and lock your office. You are wanted at State House.” He was speaking in a low tone probably so that other people would not hear what was going on.

“State House?” I couldn’t believe my ears. “Me wanted at State House? What has happened , Mr Nyirenda? You are my relative, Mr Nyirenda. Please tell me.” In this context, the reference to  “my relative” was intended to mean “my tribesman” (Tumbuka).

“I don’t know anything, Mr Chirwa. My job is just to collect you and take you to State House. ”

That got me worried, terribly worried, although I couldn’t think of anything  that I had done  to cause such worry in me. But why send the whole Commissioner of Police to come and collect me? “In that case, may I  go and inform my Editor-In-Chief so that he is aware that I am out of the office?” I  asked. The Editor-In-Chief at the time was Mr Emmanuel Nyirenda, who was later to become Information and  Broadcasting Services Permanent Secretary before he retired.

“That will be taken care of. Let’s go. I don’t want other people to know  I am around.”Just like that. Like an obedient servant, I went to lock the office, told my reporters I would  be back soon without telling them where I was going and jumped into Mr Nyirenda’s vehicle. Mr  Nyirenda propelled the machine quite fast so that within minutes, we were at State House. However, instead of going into State House, he branched into a side road to the left. After a short  drive, we were at the gate of  this house which was enclosed in a high security wall fence.

After a hoot, a paramilitary policeman opened the gate for us and we drove in. Mr Nyirenda led me into the house. We passed several rooms before we entered  this spacious, ornately furnished room that distinguished itself as an office. We found an Asian man seated on a sofa flanked by two black  men, one on either side. The trio were total strangers to me.

“I have brought the gentleman, sir,” Mr Nyirenda addressed the Asian man with a salute. “He is Mr Philip Chirwa from the Zambia Daily Mail.” So saying, he saluted again and disappeared from the room, thereby effectively leaving me with three strangers!

The Asian man ushered me into another sofa directly opposite theirs.

ASIAN MAN: “So you are Mr Philip Chirwa?”

CHIRWA (stammering): “Y..es, sir.”

ASIAN MAN: “For the benefit of  the three of us, can you tell us who Mr Philip Chirwa is.”

CHIRWA: “ Mr Philip Chirwa is a simple villager’s son born at a village  in Senior Chief Mwase’s area of Lundazi District in the Eastern Province but brought up in Lusaka. I am the first born in a family of seven children, three males and four females. My father used to work for Government Stores as a classified daily paid employee, an apparent euphemism  for a general worker,  while my mother was a housewife.”

ASIAN MAN: “Are you married, Mr Chirwa?”

CHIRWA: “Yes, sir. I am married with four children, three daughters and a son.”

ASIAN MAN: “ That’s  encouraging. The picture we have of journalists is that they are drunkards and don’t have stable homes.”

CHIRWA: “That’s  just a perception people have of us, but there are many journalists, me included, who are married and never take alcohol or smoke.”

ASIAN MAN: “I am pleased to hear that. Anyway, continue with your story. You ended at the point where you were  telling us that your father worked for Government Stores as a classified daily paid employee and that your mother was a housewife.”

CHIRWA: “ Yes, sir. We lived in Matero Township where I spent most of my childhood…”

ASIAN MAN: “Hmmm, so you are also a Matero product like one of my colleagues here?  Interesting. Continue…”

CHIRWA: “I did part of  my primary education at Chunga Primary School (now Chunga Secondary School)  in Chunga Township which we opened as pioneers in January, 1962. At that time, Chunga Township was not there; it was all bush. In fact, the school was surrounded by thick bush. Two years later, I was among pupils who were transferred from Chunga to open Muleya Primary School in January, 1964,  also as pioneers. After completing my Standard 5 at Muleya in 1965, I was accepted at Matero Boys Secondary School run by the Marianist Brothers of the United States. We opened Matero Boys in January, 1966, with three white American teachers,  and again we were the first intake.”

At this point, an elderly man in a cook’s uniform entered the room with an assortment of drinks on a tray. I was asked to take my pick and I picked my favourite drink, Fanta.

Meanwhile, one of the two black men took over the questioning: “I take it that you did your entire secondary school education at Matero Boys, or did you go to another school?”

CHIRWA: “No, sir. My entire secondary school education was done at Matero Boys.”

FIRST BLACK MAN: “What were your favourite subjects at school?”

CHIRWA(proudly): “English Language, of course, where it was customary for my English teacher to give me an A+++ in every composition! I didn’t like Maths and was therefore very surprised  when I managed to  get a 7 in Maths in the Cambridge exams. My other favourite subjects were History,  where we studied the British Empire and Commonwealth, Geography, Chemistry and Biology. “

SECOND BLACK MAN: “What was your ambition as you were doing  your secondary school education?”

CHIRWA: “My ambition was  to become a journalist, hence my interest in the English Language and the other subjects I have mentioned.”

SECOND BLACK MAN: “What extra-curricular activities were you involved in at school?”

CHIRWA: “I was an active member of  the Writers’ Club, secretary of the Debating Society and   editor of the school magazine called Matero Moto. I also enjoyed reciting poems , especially by William Shakespeare and David Diop. However, many of my former  schoolmates remember me for a Zambian poem called ‘Black Mamba, Black Mamba, the White Man Called Me’ which I recited at the end of my Form 5 in 1970.”

FIRST BLACK MAN: “It was obviously a political poem reminding people about how the black man suffered at the hands of his white colonisers.”

CHIRWA: “That’s correct, sir,  and I recited it with relish. I received loud applause from the audience.”

FIRST BLACK MAN: “Coming back to the subject, it is a common trend among most secondary schools to honour  outgoing Form 5 students who excelled in particular sports or some other disciplines. Was it the same at Matero Boys?”

CHIRWA: “It was the same, sir. I won the overall prize, the Kenneth David Kaunda Award for Humanism, Character and Leadership, for which I received a trophy.  I also won individual prizes for the roles I played in the Writers’ Club, the production of the school magazine and the Debating Society.”

FIRST BLACK MAN: “Hmm, you look so innocent , Mr Chirwa,  and yet you were able to achieve all that.” (Laughter from his colleagues). “ Now, tell us , Mr Chirwa, how did you find yourself at Zambia Daily Mail?”

CHIRWA: “I applied for a job there, sir. In my application letter, I told them my desire was to become a journalist but that my  parents were poor and couldn’t afford to send me to college. We closed school on 4th December, 1970, and on 4th January, 1971,  I was taken on by the Zambia Daily Mail as a trainee reporter under its own journalism training scheme run by a British journalist. My salary was K100 per month, which was quite reasonable considering that at that time a bag of breakfast meal was selling at K2.80 and of roller meal at K1.10.”

SECOND BLACK MAN: “Say that to our children today and they will think you are joking and yet it is true. Anyway,  Mr Chirwa, are you telling us that Zambia Daily Mail employed you before you got your Form 5 results?”

CHIRWA: “Correct, sir.”


CHIRWA: “They employed me on the basis of my impressive mock exam results. They knew that I could not fail my Form 5. Moreover, my principal and career guidance teacher had written powerful testimonials certifying that I had shown remarkable potential for journalism during the five years I was at Matero Boys. As things turned out, I passed my Cambridge School  exams very well.”

Here, the Asian man took over the questioning again: “Mr Chirwa, you have told us you joined Zambia Daily Mail straight from school. Would you say that the in-house training scheme offered by the Zambia Daily Mail was worth it?”

CHIRWA: “Absolutely, and that is why I will remain eternally grateful to Zambia Daily Mail for making me what I am today, although I have attended several post-graduate journalism courses both at home and abroad since then.  In 1979, for example, I was voted the Best News Reporter of the Year, beating many of my colleagues  who had joined the journalism profession from colleges. I think what’s important  is love for the job and the satisfaction you derive from it. I believe that if you love what you are doing, then you will succeed in anything.”

ASIAN MAN: “ And what’s your  current position at Zambia Daily Mail?”

CHIRWA: “I am  Features Editor, sir.”

ASIAN MAN: “How long have you been in that position?”

CHIRWA: “Less than ten months but I have been writing features for about five years or so. Incidentally, my areas of specialization as a journalist are News Writing and Feature Writing. In other words, I am a news and features man.”

ASIAN MAN: “You seem to love your job, er?”

CHIRWA: “ If I may be allowed to put it this way, sir,  I drink journalism and eat journalism.” (Laughter from the two black men).


ASIAN MAN: “ I can see that you really love your job. But  do you have any idea why you are here and why we are asking you these questions?”

CHIRWA: “No idea, sir. I am really scared.”

ASIAN MAN: “Why are you scared, Mr Chirwa?”

CHIRWA: “I’m scared because Mr Nyirenda didn’t tell me anything. He just said jump into the car, you are wanted at State House. Even my Editor-In-Chief does not know where I am.”  (More laughter from the two black men).

ASIAN MAN: “Don’t worry, Mr Chirwa,  you have not been kidnapped. You are in very safe hands.”

The Asian man  remained silent for a moment, then he said: “As you are aware, Mr Chirwa, you don’t know any one of us. We are total strangers to you. In fact, this is the reason we asked for your life history so that we had an idea of the person we were dealing with. We just read about you in the Zambia Daily Mail. Now at least we know who Mr Chirwa is. You have an interesting background, humble but solid.”

CHIRWA: “Thank you, sir. I feel so humbled.”

ASIAN MAN: “Some three weeks ago. I was out of the country when you wrote a review of a book which describes the efficacy and effectiveness of  herbal medicines. You started your review by chronicling cases of prominent personalities who were healed of their illnesses through these  herbal remedies. Do you remember that?”

CHIRWA: “I remember that very well, sir. We decided to review the book because we felt it would help a lot of  people suffering from various diseases for which Western medicine had failed. “

ASIAN MAN: “Actually,  I am the author of that book. I was shown the review and I thought it was a beautiful piece of writing. I recommended to His Excellency the President that I meet you  so that I could  thank you in person. This is why he instructed  his  Commissioner of Police  to go and collect you himself.”

CHIRWA(overwhelmed by the turn of events): “I am so thankful, sir. For me, I was just doing my job. I couldn’t think for one moment that it would come to this.”

ASIAN MAN: “Get it from me, young man. You have a great  future in journalism. Keep it up!”

Then came the surprise of surprises: the Asian man produced a brown envelope from his pocket and handed it over to me, saying: “Mr Chirwa, take this. It is not a bribe. A bribe is something you give to someone  in return for a favour. I have never been a corrupt man in my life and will never be. Did I arrange with you that if you gave me a good review, I would pay  you something?”

CHIRWA:”No, sir.”

ASIAN MAN: “You wrote the review as part of your job?”

CHIRWA: “You are correct, sir.”

ASIAN MAN: “So what I am giving you is not a bribe. In fact, this is why I called these colleagues of mine to witness the presentation. They are from the security wings. I am giving you this monetary gift as a show of appreciation of what you have done for me. After that review, the book sold out like hot cakes.”

I  was asked to open the envelope in the presence of the two black men. There was K400 inside (a lot of money in those days. It was actually almost equivalent to my monthly salary!)

Shortly after the presentation, the Commissioner of Police came back and the Asian man instructed  him to drive me back to the Zambia Daiy Mail offices in Longolongo Road…


NB: Mr  Ernest Nyirenda has since passed on. May his soul rest in peace.

The author is a Lusaka-based media consultant who also worked in the Foreign Service as a diplomat in South Africa and Botswana. For comments, sms 0977425827/0967146485  or Email: pchirwa2009@yahoo.com.


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