Grey Footprints

Grey Mang'anda

It seems everyone who interacted with Grey Mang’anda has a good story to tell, stories of a man whose journey of life ended on Wednesday last week.

We all come to the earth to walk a journey of life. But Grey walked two journeys in one life: the journey of a talented lecturer and the journey of an able administrator. 

If the journey of life were a hat, Grey wore his lecturing and administration hats well, “with humility and a well measured sense of humour,” according to Professor Nixon Kariithi, former head of Department of Media Studies at the University of Witwatersrand. 

“It would seem that his engaging yet conscientious demeanour aided his approach to resolving tasks much more than many of us immersed ourselves,” says Kariithi who worked with Grey in 2010 during a Bachelor of Arts Journalism programme curriculum review at the Malawi University of Business and Applied Studies, then a constituent college of University of Malawi. “At times, this quality allowed him to get ahead of everyone else involved with him.”  

Indeed Grey got ahead of his peers many times. But he remained humble, a friend of all, even his students. 

No wonder President Bakili Muluzi, who ruled Malawi from 1994 to 2004, plucked Grey from the university to become Chief Information Officer. He later became Chief of Protocol in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs until 2001 when he returned to the university and soon became Dean of Faculty of Education and Media Studies. 

While serving in the office of Chief Information Officer, Grey introduced the Central Office of Information where officials from government ministries, departments and agencies would meet the press. The private sector and NGOs used the office too. 

Charles Chikapa, a veteran journalist, recalls how as board member of Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) in 1995, Grey opposed the move to fire Director of News and Current Affairs Molland Nkhata, especially for opening up MBC to views that government defined as “opposing.” 

Grey stood his ground even when he was summoned by the Minister of Information over the issue. Grey could not play along to politics to have a professional fired for doing what was right. “He eventually left the board but with his head high,” says Chikapa. 

Such was Grey’s love for the profession and his desire to keep politics out of journalism. Surprisingly, it was after Grey resigned from MBC board that President Muluzi appointed him Chief Information Officer. 

In 2012 Grey retired from the University of Malawi at the age of 60 after which President Joyce Banda appointed him as Director of Information, a new name for his old office, Chief Information Officer. Grey was later acting Secretary for Information after the death of Anthony Livuza.  Later, Grey was assigned to the Office of the President and Cabinet as Director of Public Affairs, a position he held until end of his contract in 2017. 

It was Gerald Viola who succeeded Grey as Director of Public Affairs. Viola recalls that his job was “difficult.” He needed help from someone with experience. Grey became that someone. Viola gathered courage and called Grey for guidance. “I became a star performer because of Grey,” says Viola. 

As was his tradition, after the end of his contract with Malawi Government in 2017, he went back to academia, Blantyre International University, where he became Dean of Academic Affairs. As always, wearing two hats: administration and teaching.  

Everyone who interacted with Grey has a good story to tell. Renowned Malawi News Agency (MANA) feature writer, Gospel Mwalwanda, owes his career to Grey. During his probation at MANA, Mwalwanda was assigned to cover a cocktail party at a hotel in Blantyre. He was with a senior reporter and Grey was editor on duty that evening. 

“I had too much to drink at the party and misbehaved when we got to the office,” recalls Mwalwanda. Chances were high he would be fired. After all he was on probation. 

“Thanks to Grey,” says Mwalwanda, “I was warned verbally.” He later learned that Grey had defended Mwalwanda, saying the young reporter had a lot of potential. Indeed, Mwalwanda rose to become a famous feature writer whose stories graced the two dailies. 

As a media trainer in the University of Malawi, Grey has shaped the careers of hundreds of journalists. He also conducted trainings outside the university, through such organisations as Journalists Association of Malawi formed soon after multiparty democracy returned to Malawi in 1993. 

Baldwin Chiyamwaka was a secondary school teacher before he joined journalism. In fact, he started his journalism career while teaching. He was one of the editors of the Teachers Association of Malawi (TEMA) magazine. Grey was one of the trainers of the magazine editors.  

I also have my own story, which I told on Facebook in September 2020 to the amazement of Grey who called me for a long chat. 

Twenty five years ago in September, Grey was in his office in Delamare House in Blantyre. I was young man, armed with an MSCE and waiting for university admission, carrying with me a strong ambition to become a journalist. 

One day, I walked into Grey's office, on floor six of Delamare. His secretary, a motherly figure who was about to retire I guess, welcomed me warmly. I told her I wanted to write for Weekly News. 

Mukumane ndi bwana, she said, and walked into Grey’s office. She came back with a smile. Lowani. I entered, without any appointment.

In there, I found a really smart man, dressed smartly, sitting on a smart chair, his hands on a smart table, in a smart room. 

I introduced myself and told him about my desire to report for Weekly News. In under five minutes, I was offered internship, without any training in journalism. Weekly News would be my class. I wrote a story on paprika and a number of other stories. 

I became friends with Jack Macbrams, Andrew Mazulu, Govati Nyirenda, Victor Mhango, Ronald Mpaso and many more. 

Five years later, Grey was my Feature and Magazine Writing lecturer in the University of Malawi. He had returned home to the university after a tour of duty at Ministry of Information and Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  

Grey is a great part of my story. He shall remain in my story and the stories of hundreds of people, forever. 

In two words, Grey was a “genuine person,” according to Minister of Information and Digitisation, Gospel Kazako. Perhaps this is the best description of Grey. He was a genuine person. He lived a genuine life, held genuine beliefs and helped genuinely. 

Nothing beats a genuine life.