Thursday, April 7, 2016

Dumbo Lemani: Missed Multifaceted Figure

He had a way of conveying information in such a way that his mannerisms always compensated for the disturbance of spending minutes trying to make sense out of his words.
Those on the opposite side of the political divide always had a bone to pick against him, for, to say the truth, he had a way of plucking feathers here and there.
In the sports world, he wore the crown of such adjectives as flamboyant, outspoken, carefree and others too many to be attributed to one man.
And, then, he was a pastor. The Reverend Dr Dumbo Lemani.
He was a man of so many faces.
When his time to bid farewell to the country, and the world, he so loved was nigh, he was still fighting battles for himself and others he, in his wisdom, perceived to have been wrongfully treated.
And, then, when the government failed to send him abroad for medical check up, he succumbed to death-- another bright star plucked from the skies.
Since then, Malawi has had no other version of Dumbo Lemani: The politician, the preacher, the sportsman, the peacemaker, the freethinker, the father, the husband, the-many-things-to-so-many people.
As someone who learned the art of journalism at the UDF [United Democratic Front] News between 2003 and 2004, I had, on several occasions, bumped into Dumbo Lemani several times at the UDF headquarters in Limbe. And, from those encounters, I learned that he was a man who could relate to everyone.
Hidden behind tinted chroma lens, a joke never escaped his lips.
I remember one day, when I bumped into him while chewing sugarcane outside the office, he said: "Kamfana iwe [little boy], why are you eating sugarcane as if you are a bushman? Those are not for human beings!"
Before I could think that that was a bad joke, Dumbo Lemani gave me a package of assorted biscuits, saying: "From today, develop the habit of eating these [biscuits]. They will facilitate the decay of your teeth and you will no longer need sugarcane!"
However, two days later, I found Dumbo Lemani eating sugarcane with automobile mechanics behind the UDF office. The garage I am referring to is still there. It has always been there.
Well, Dumbo Lemani was not one to be embarrassed. He was the approachable type. The easy-to-mingle-with type. Not wanting to let that moment go, he invited me using the name he had come up with [for me]. "Iwe Kalombo [Hey, Kalombo -- for Chirombo], do not think I have become poorer than an opposition politician. Here is K1,000 for your lunch."
That was Dumbo Lemani, for real.
One day, when Malawi Distilleries Limited was launching Tropical Cathy Light Spirits at the Blantyre Sports Club, I joined the party. Being new in Malawi journalism, I got excited when I saw Malawi Distilleries Limited officials inviting people to drink free-for-all beer, liquor, wine and what have you.
Well, what happened thereafter, after taking one to many, is a story for another day. But someone wanted to take a picture of me without my knowledge and Dumbo Lemani-- the father figure-- alongside Kenneth Nyahoda his trusted lieutenant, threatened the photographers. "If you capture his [my] pictures without his consent, I will shoot you."
Everyone knew he meant it. And nobody dared take the pictures.
With Dumbo Lemani around, I was safe.
People may remember Dumbo Lemani as someone who was so close to Atcheya [former president Bakili Muluzi] that they were like brothers. True. Their relationship was special.
One of my favourite file photos in the UDF News pictures library [actually, what we called a pictures library was a big carton the size of Malawi Zebu] was a picture of Dumbo Lemani in tinted glasses looking directly into Muluzi's eyes. There was no bodyguard and it was Dumbo Lemani who was more intimidating than Muluzi. The bond between them was thick!
Remember, when the United Democratic Front won the 2004 presidential elections after featuring former president, the late Bingu wa Mutharika, it was Dumbo Lemani who addressed members of the press a year after the elections and, while the sun was baking trees in midday, said: "We rigged the 2004 elections."
Of course, the words sounded like the lament of a frustrated man who has nothing to lose. And, because it was Dumbo Lemani, nobody took him seriously. He was not even arrested by the Mutharika administration.
Malawians may also leave to remember that day Dumbo Lemani started moving around with a blanket, toothpaste and a toothbrush. When asked, he said: "I have heard that the government [of Mutharika] wants to arrest me. So, I have prepared these items in readiness for a stint in prison. I am ready to go to prison!"
People thought he was joking. He was not.
During one of those days, I met him at Escom Power House in Blantyre and asked him: "Chief, are you, really, serious about going to prison. Why can't you give the shoe-shiners the toothbrush. They have perfected the toothbrush into a shoe-shining too, you know?"
But Dumbo said it was no time for jokes. These people are taking Malawians for granted. Where were they when we were fighting for multiparty democracy?"
I did not continue the discussion. I knew he was serious. And that he was serious because he was angry. And sad.
I did not know Dumbo Lemani much as a reverend. So, I will not about about that.
But I can talk of Dumbo Lemani as a sports man. And these are accounts I got from my father, Leviano Simon. Now, my father was a staunch supporter of Hardware Stars Football Club, and cared little about Mighty [now Be Forward] Wanderers and Bata [now Nyasa] Bullets.
But he remembers Dumbo Lemani, who used to be a Wanderers' team doctor in the 1980s.
My father [May His Soul Rest in Peace] fondly said of Lemani, a man he hardly knew: "Player wa Wanderers akavulala, amwenye onse ankakuwa kuti: Alowe a Dumbo Lemani! Alowe a Dumbo Lemani! [Whenever a Wanderers' player got injured, Malawians of Asian origin could shout: Let Dumbo Lemani get onto the pitch [to pay medical attention to the player]!"
Such was the magnetic nature of Dumbo Lemani!
He was so many things to so many people and will be remembered for many years to come.
As Parliamentarian for Zomba Thondwe Constituency, Dumbo Lemani did not beat about the bush. His radio jingles were accompanied by the following lyrics from the Nangalembe Brothers:
Mukanena za ine mutopa
Mukanena za ine
Za ine mutopa
Mukanena za ine eee
Za ine mutopa!

Tazingogwirani ntchitozo
Tazingogwirani ntchitozo
Mukanena za ine
Za ine
Mukanena za ine
Za ine mutopa
[the task of talking about me will just tire you out! Concentrate on work!]

But, then, who are we not to talk of Dumbo Lemani?
Who are we not to remember him?

Surely, we ain't gonna get tired!

That giant heart, the white beards: Those were stilled by unappreciative death that day, leaving us stranded between fond and sad memories.

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