10 lessons learnt from the life of John Tembo

Former MCP president John Tembo

As we are celebrating the life of the political veteran John Ungapake Zenus Tembo in the aftermath of his demise on 27th September 2023, the social media has been awash with mixed feelings ranging from remorseful condolence messages to expressions of anger and revenge.

It is not mindboggling to appreciate that every human being has his own strengths and weaknesses. Despite any perspective, we can still draw some lessons from the life of John Tembo.

In this article, an attempt will be made to discuss the factual positives exuded by John Tembo during the course of his life.

Firstly, let us delve deeper into his personal life. John Tembo married a wife from Lesotho, Ruth Tembo. This may sound simple. However, here is a man who was born and raised in the Chewa cultural environment. One would expect that he would rope in a wife from his own tribe with a view of preserving the Chewa culture. On the contrary, John Tembo defied the odds by marrying a wife of his choice regardless of her region of origin or tribe. It is a great lesson to all of us. During this modern era, it is pathetic that promising love relationships have crumbled down due to mere differences in tribe, political affiliation, race, region of origin, and religion. In fact, there is ample evidence that intermarriages among people of different backgrounds have reduced incidences of nepotism, tribalism, xenophobia and racialism. For instance, there is nothing wrong with a Chewa marrying a Tumbuka just it is absolutely fine for a Christian tying a knot with a Muslim. All human beings possess the same dignity regardless of their background differences.

Secondly, John Tembo has taught us that we can still contribute to the progress of our country in various capacities. It is well documented that John Tembo miserably lost 2009 and 2004 presidential elections. Even after this loss, John Tembo was motivated to be a strong leader of opposition in parliament. It is unanimously agreed that John Tembo was the strongest opposition leader ever in the Malawi’s political landscape.

Memories are still fresh when he stood his ground in parliament against the ruling political party that was buying opposition members of Parliament into the government side. This was why John Tembo used to exclaim in parliament, “Section 65 number one, budget number 2”. Those are the old good days when parliamentary deliberations were both entertaining and fruitful. Most political analysts agree that John Tembo’s strict checks and balances on the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) regime helped Dr. Bingu wa Mutharika’s regime to excel.

Thirdly, John Tembo confirmed to us that successful politicians know when to quit. Indeed after a consecutive two electoral presidential elections losses, . John Tembo honorably stepped down from being the President of the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) to pave way for his successor, Dr. Lazarus McCarthy Chakwera who indeed later successfully ushered the party into government. Since his relinquishing of power, John Tembo has never been seen to interfere with the incumbent leadership of the party. This is a good trait of Tembo’s statesmanship. In fact, he pretty well knew that he was aging and he did not choose to cling to power by being a stumbling block to the ambitious up-and-coming new blood. Fourthly, we can also take some lessons from John Tembo that aging is not a coincidence. The truth is that dying at the age of over 90 is not a gamble. It requires self-discipline and self-control. For starters, African politics is a dirty game. There are some quarters who still believe that John Tembo was personally involved in eliminating Dr. Banda’s dissidents. Politically, Dr. Banda’s regime created a lot of power hungry enemies who had the potential of also eliminating the president and his sycophants including John Tembo. Without glorifying the atrocities perpetrated by the old MCP dictatorial regime, some killings were staged in an attempt to protect possible assassination of the leadership of the then regime. Isn’t committing a crime in the wake of self-defence not lawful in the laws of Malawi?

Being a trained teacher, the life of John Tembo has also taught us that we should not leave behind traces when we perform diabolical acts even in the case of self-defence.

Sixthly, John Tembo left us with a lesson that grabbing opportunities promptly as they present themselves is the best way to success. There was a time in Malawi’s history when John Tembo was practically the second feared man to Dr. Banda. This did not just happen on a silver platter. It is honestly alleged that John Tembo was calling the shots together with his niece, Cecelia Tamanda Kadzamira when Dr. Banda showed signs of incapacitation due to old age. Malawians are also aware that there was a time when John Tembo was the Chairman of most parastatal board of directors in an attempt to wield more power.

Lastly but not least, my first reaction when I heard that John Tembo had passed on was the very same statement he said when he was asked to comment on Ishmael Chafukira’s sudden death. He literally said, “Death is death”. Ishmael Chafukira died under mysterious circumstances in South Africa and at that time some quarters were of the opinion that John Tembo had a hand in Chafukira’s demise. Malawians are reminded that Ishmael Chafukira was in the forefront challenging Tembo’s party leadership a couple of months before his death. On the contrary, Chafukira’s postmortem examination revealed a different cause of death, similar to that of former President Bingu’s demise. We are mourning Tembo’s demise because death is death. Have you wondered as to why both Dr.Hasting Banda and Mr. John Tembo succumbed to pneumonia? Old age could have played a bigger role in their demise.

In conclusion, despite all the alleged atrocities leveled against John Tembo, Malawians of good will are remembering him as a strong opposition leader, a covert political strategist, opportunist, and a family man who followed his heart to marry Lesotho woman thereby defying the odds of tribalistic cultural marriages.