Death came calling on Christmas Day, pulling the warm-hearted Chiradzulu Police Station spokesperson, Raphael Makondetsa, to a lonesome grave: Cold, quiet, and isolated.
Zachimalawi remembers him thus:
It's a great loss; Ralph Makondetsa going.
Especially because I, twice or thrice last year, spent some hours at his new-found home (after that transfer from Mulanje) in Chiradzulu. Though I went there to get the official side of Chiradzulu Police Station on a story we were pursuing, he still had time for his beloved Chibuku. Oh, now he will miss Chimera, too; the Chimera recently
discovered and tasted by Ralph Ten. May be he tried it already. May be not.Everything borders on 'may be' now.
And, between sips of his favourite Chibuku, he delved into petty village talk. He was the kind of man who spoke very little about his past (meaning, his service at Mulanje Police Station, after which he tumbled and fell onto the hard surface of the floor called General Duties. In the Malawi Police Service, people who somehow fail to hide
the whole truth by being "too" honest and media-friendly always fall back onto the hard, General Duties, floor. And Makondetsa had his turn on such a floor. He would have risen -from the floor- it was expected- but he has departed and ascended up-high, or wherever they go, instead). The floor will no longer hold him captive.
He was a man who let bygones be bygones. No bitterness over his unceremonious transfer from Mulanje- or the fact that the Patrick Murama issue along with that of the once mighty Mullis versus philanthropist Mary Woodworth pulled him into the centre of the storm- pushed him to pursue his, supposedly great, ambition for power. He humbly provided the much-needed information from the floor. His dream, he said between sips of the Chibuku opaque beer, was to be able to work hard and just provide. He found the greatest pleasure in the small things in life- the ability to be of service to all and sundry.
He, really, was a great man. Especially because he did not wield his police background as a club to inspire guilt or fear in the neighbourhood. He was a good neighbour. Which is why, within the one hour we sat on the cracked floor of his Chiradzulu house while waiting for the Chiradzulu Police Station Officer to get to the office and give him the go ahead to provide the information we needed, neighbours
who held him in high esteem brought five packets of Chibuku so he could 'quench' the waiting away.
They had all learned of him- about how good he was- through passing comments- or from fellow police officers. He was not one to tell stories about himself. He talked of people.
If his honesty attracted people to him, it must so be that his humour pulled many to him, too. And sometimes he could be gentle and chiding, too. A case of hard love.
But all these things not many know. And he will 'rise' into oblivion now. His voice did so sometime back. It (the voice) did so when it became husky. There must have been something wrong with his vocal cords. So, even before he passed on, there were things people were missing in Makondetsa while he still partook of the common oxygen:The voice.
But he, in much the same way as he did overcome the hardness of the General Duties floor, got over this, too. It was the message (he delivered to the media and members of the general public) and not the voice (or sound of that voice) that mattered. Oh, Makondetsa!
The positive thing and the comforting aspect is that Makondetsa has found yet another home. A new home without hard floors. As he learns the tricks of settling there, he will be remembered for a while. And, then, grass will be allowed to conquer his dwelling place, outgrowing the dust that kept memories about him afresh among those left above the dust. Those people in the village. Those who still cared.
Maybe his relatives will, once in a while, kneel or bend down to clear his
grave of grass, dust and dirt. So long as, in the process, they do not erase the good memories about him, too.
Long after he is gone.