By Ken Lipenga
A few months ago Retired Chief Justice Lovemore Munlo SC, “My Lord ” as I liked to address him against his preference (he preferred achimwene, meaning, “my brother”), paid me a surprise visit at my Phalombe home, accompanied by his wife.
He brushed aside my offer of proper chairs, and insisted that we just chat in the khonde. My workers were over-awed. Word had quickly spread around about who abwana’s distinguished-looking visitor was, and yet the visiting abwana insisted on sitting on the khonde. But this was no surprise to me, for Chief Justice Lovemore Munlo always carried himself like an ordinary man.
Even with his simple appearance many in my village were aware that the mysterious sudden visitor had previously served in various portfolios in government. He had retired as the biggest judge in the land, but before that he had been deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Minister of Justice and Attorney General (1993 to 1994), Justice of the High Court of Malawi (1990 to 1992); Director of Public Prosecutions (1984 to 1987); Senior State Advocate (1980 to 1984) and State Advocate (1976 to 1980), and many other things. He had also served Africa in Arusha and as Registrar for the Residual Special Court for Sierra Leone .
My visitor and I talked, literally non-stop, for two hours, maybe longer. We reminisced about our youthful days down in Mulanje. And about how, years later, we ended up together again at Chancellor College as the proud “Class of `76,” and even much later in government.
In the picture he’s paying homage to my late parents in the ritual of touching my father’s totem pole. We joked that perhaps the Retired Chief Justice might get even more Solominic wisdom than he already had by touching that old totem pole, seeing as my father had been one of the “justices” at the royal court of Mwene Phodogoma.
Many who knew Chief Justice Munlo remarked on his exemplary humility. In the Elhomwe language his surname means “fire”, but his personality was anything but fiery. That said, one of Chief Justice Munlo’s attributes was that he could be quite blunt when necessary and did not easily suffer fools. I remember him being particularly brutal in his exchanges with one of our presidents who had the misfortune of crossing his path. Hapless ministers fared even worse, and I can testify that I was no exception, for he was that good kind of friend who did not hide it when he thought you had made a mistake.
Alas, it now turns out that, although we did talk once or twice on the phone afterwards, that visit a few months ago was his farewell to me. The passing of Retired Justice Lovemore Munlo, who only a while ago sat in front of me on that khonde with his wife…well, it is very hard not to take it personal, very hard.
That picture by the totem pole is of a simple man. But Lovemore Munlo was an extraordinary citizen of our land who will be remembered for his remarkable contributions to the country and to Africa. As for me, I will forever cling to that image of him smiling as he touched the totem pole.
I offer condolences to his dear wife and the rest of the family. May His Soul Rest in Peace.
***Views expressed are those of the author Dr Ken Lipenga, as extracted off his Facebook wall**