I cannot claim to have known the late Respicious Dzanjalimodzi well. Apart from a few mostly business meetings, I never knew the man on a personal level. But from the little I knew of him, he came across as that rare breed of politician, a man who gave the impression he found himself in politics by mistake.
One memory from the few encounters we ever had was over the weekend of May 18th-21st, 2006 back in mid 2006 at Hippo View Lodge, Liwonde. Together with other political party representatives, we had gathered to deliberate on the Discussion Paper that had been prepared by the Law Commission for the Constitutional Review Conference, held in Lilongwe the previous month of May.
Among the more controversial issues that were raised at the National Conference, and taken up again at the Liwonde workshop was the question of whether we should include a provision in our constitution setting a maximum age limit as well as minimum education qualifications for the office of State President. From my interactions at the National Conference, it struck me as odd that the younger leadership of the various political parties were not supportive of either proposal yet they stood to gain the most as such provisions would have opened up the opportunity for them not only to lead their parties, but also have a crack at the national state leadership itself.
Yet, despite the obvious benefits to the younger group of politicians, I detected a sense of unwillingness for many political party representatives at the conference to be seen to be publically supporting a proposal that threatened the right of the older crop of political leaders to contest for the highest post in the land. To get around the problem and get the real personal views of the political representatives at the Liwonde workshop, we therefore proposed that we should also administer anonymous questionnaires to elicit individual views on the more sensitive issues.
The findings in many respects, confirmed my suspicions: in many instances, the consensus positions in the open plenary sessions tended to diverge from the individual views captured in the questionnaire survey. Anyway, that is of course, another long story. But why I remember this workshop with respect to the late Resicipious Dzanjalimodzi is not about the findings, but rather, his openness and willingness to stand up and be counted.
The late Respicious was one of the few frank politicians at the gathering, sometimes supporting a position at odds with the majority of his fellow MCP participants. More importantly, he was also the only participant who voluntarily appended his name to the filled-in questionnaire. For a party whose leadership is among that category of long serving individuals, Dzanjalimodzi not only supported the proposal for the introduction of an even lower maximum age limit of 65 for presidential candidates, but also advocating for the introduction of a minimum of a Bachelors Degree for presidential and parliamentary aspirants.
Sadly, he is no more, having succumbed to a sudden illness while on holiday in South Africa on Thursday, August 14th, 2008 and tragically followed by his mother who died while people were holding his wake. Malawi could use more of such frank and open politicians. Unfortunately, there are not that many around. May his soul rest in peace.