From MBC to the world – the story of one Nyamatcherenga
“Never use borrowed accent to sound like a foreigner on a national radio or TV because that takes away the flavour of your national identity,” says Nyamatcherenga.
By Kondwani Magombo, Mana
MALAWI: One day in February 1983, a young man was introduced to the Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) staff at the Broadcasting House (BH) in Chichiri, Blantyre.
He was introduced as Gerald Nyamatcherenga, to be working in the presentation section.
Among those present during the introductions was the producer of Theatre of the Air and Writer’s Conner programs, Marvin Hanke, who looked at the new recruit with little inspiration.
“Gerald’s stature is relatively small and seeing him for the first time, I had my doubts as to his skills and talents for the job of announcer/presenter,” Hanke confesses.
“[But] he proved me wrong the first time I heard him presenting on the radio: There was dynamite in that small package and he was a fast learner,” Hanke adds.
He describes Nyamatcherenga as someone who could not settle for less when there was more he could get.
According to Hanke, Nyamatcherenga wanted to be both producer and presenter and he quickly learned production, where his skills and capabilities stood out.
Renowned radio presenter, Owen Lupeska, who worked with Nyamatcherenga at MBC, also remembers the young man with a ‘relatively small stature as a daring go-getter.
“If you ask me how best to describe Gerald, I have very few words: Ambitious and hard-working, highly disciplined, focused,” explains Lupeska, adding: “He used MBC not to retire there but as a springboard for higher achievements.”
From the corridors of Malawi’s first Broadcasting House in Chichiri, where he paced up and down for 17 years – turning himself into a household name, Nyamatcherenga has, over the years, made a mark in communication consultancies on the international scene.
Holder of a Master’s Degree in Journalism from Cardiff University in the UK, Nyamatcherenga is now based in Rwanda working as a Strategic Communication Expert on an EU project.
His thirst for new challenges is taking him to various corners of the globe as demand arises.
“Since I left MBC in July 2000, I have been working on Communication Consultancies for various international organizations, including the UN in Africa and Asia – as far as East Timor,” explains Nyamatcherenga through a questionnaire that this reporter emailed him.
“My first international experience was in Afghanistan back in 2004. Currently, I am in Rwanda, where the terrain reminds me of Swaziland, where I worked from 2018 to 2019,” he adds.
Nyamatcherenga recalls joining MBC at the age of 25 on 2nd February 1983, as an announcer, after a rigorous interview that spanned two years.
At MBC, he was also involved in the production of programmes such as The Morning Basket, Business Spectrum, Nthawi ya Anyamata, Hits of the ’80s, documentaries and reportage.
Nyamatcherenga, who hails from Billy Village, TA Ngabu in Chikwawa, recalls having been trained for a month at the radio station before he went on air.
“It came as a surprise after a month-long training when one day after my lunch, my boss then, late Dyson Mzumara, asked me to go into the studio and join Mercy Chipeta who was presenting Nyimbo za kumudzi programme,” he recalls.
“So I co-presented the programme with Mercy Chipeta and that’s when the nation heard my voice for the first time, and it was a moment I knew I was finally at MBC.”
The father of two girls and a boy recalls some defining moments at MBC which included reporting the first democratic election in Mozambique in October 1994 under the supervision of the United Nations Operations in Mozambique (UNOMOZ).
He was among five media practitioners, the others being a Miss. Munyenyembe – now based in Namibia – from Malawi News Agency (Mana); late Gladys Khoza; Stewart Mchiswe; and late Edward Chitsulo, who was selected by European Parliamentarians for Southern Africa, also called Association of European Parliamentarians with Africa – (AWEPA), to cover the election.
“UNOMOZ became a nickname for Chitsulo and I such that we never called each other by our actual names, but UNOMOZ,” explains Nyamatcherenga. “That kept our memories alive about Mozambique, particularly Maputo, whereupon our arrival we experienced gunfire with bullets flying above our heads and we immediately lied on the ground to protect ourselves.”
The veteran broadcaster, who clocks 64 in September this year, also recalls a controversial interview he had with a British Media Trainer, Bloomfield, in 1994, before the latter left for England.
Bloomfield criticized MBC for treating a diary of events by Cabinet Ministers as news, and, according to Nyamatcherenga, the interview “left a whirlwind” and it hinted on a revolution to the mother radio’s course of reporting.
“It was big news in Malawi and it became the talk of the town since nobody ever expected that kind of interview to go on air at MBC,” he explains in the questionnaire and continues: “I felt that it was a turning point when journalists at MBC could report the truth without facing any reprisals.
“It was the first reportage of its kind and the Nation Newspaper drew a cartoon of a radio which sarcastically was broadcasting Ministers’ itineraries – and this cartoon was reproduced in the UK.”
Another defining moment for Nyamatcherenga came when he, presenting the Morning Basket Programme, used an interview he had with Dr Jerry Jana, then CEO of Malawi Confederation of Chamber of Commerce.
Nyamatcherenga recalls that the questions in the interview were “tough and compelling” and that listening to the interview from her hotel room, another BBC trainer, Eva Simmons, who had come to train MBC personnel, got impressed.
“She later asked me to join her course if I was interested – which I did – and from that moment till now we became good friends,” explains Nyamatcherenga, adding that when he was studying at Cardiff University he used to visit her at her home in Cambridge and spend a weekend or bank holidays.
But Nyamatcherenga also had bad days at the mother radio station and one of such episodes led to a suspension after he had been on the air for just two weeks.
He recalls that Kamuzu was in Kasungu during a crop inspection tour and the Malawi leader was supposed to visit Chankhanga, but for some reason, the programme was postponed.
This was not communicated to Nyamatcherenga, the announcer on duty the next morning, and, ignorant of the changes, he opened the station at 5:00 AM the following day and began to give out the programme line-up, including Kamuzu’s visit to Chankhanga.
What followed was an experience that remains imprinted on Nyamatcherenga’s mind like does the nerve-chilling landing at Maputo for UNOMOZ assignment amid gunshots in 1994.
“It was a very bad experience that I will never forget in my life,” explains Nyamatcherenga. “I started getting several calls, first from Chief Reporter, then, Late Franklin Titani, and later from MBC senior people of the time.
“One of the seniors drove to MBC that early hour to take over and he told me to go home until the time I would be communicated to,” adds Nyamatcherenga.
This left the new announcer confused as he did not know what wrong he had done and what would be the consequences when the General Manager, late Tony Kandiero, who was in Geneva at the time, returned.
Two weeks later, when Kandiero returned, Nyamatcherenga was called for a hearing and after a lot of grilling that the radio presenter confesses left him trembling, the General Manager said “there was no issue to warrant dismissal nor suspension” of the young presenter.
All in all, the former radio personality describes his 17-year stay at MBC as “fabulous and enriching”, having travelled across the country, SADC and Europe.
Although it’s now over 20 years since he left MBC, memories of some radio personalities Nyamatcherenga interacted with at the radio station remain fresh – each one for a particular reason.
Nyamatcherenga remembers the late Dyson Mzumara for building him into a fine broadcaster and for opening opportunities abroad for further studies; Benson Tembo, Owen Lupeska, late Maria Chidzanja Nkhoma, late Patrick Khoza, Chaipa Hiwa, and late James Chimera for their different contributions, too.
Other personalities who left a mark on Nyamatcherenga’s life include the late Philip Moyo Mwala, late Davies Mussa, late Sam Gunde, Martin Chilimampunga, Mercy Chipeta, Verson Idi, Pearson Chunga, Marvin Hanke, and Boardington Kaimila.
Of special mention are Charles Chikapa and the late Patrick Masala who, in Nyamatcherenga’s view, epitomized the spirit of quality broadcasting and immensely contributed to achieving high standards that made MBC a number one radio station in Southern and Eastern Africa in the early 80s.
“MBC used to compete with other national broadcasters and got awards: Its fierce competitors in those days were Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation; Kenya Broadcasting Corporation and Ghana Broadcasting Corporation,” recalls the former MBC presenter.
He adds: “Each one of them received Commonwealth Broadcasting Association (CBA) awards for fine programming and professional broadcasting.”
On the present-day MBC, Nyamatcherenga commends the enthusiasm and passion displayed by the young people in the industry.
However, he criticizes the speed, pronunciation, pitch and accent that some personalities use when presenting news.
He notes that the essence of broadcasting is not to impress but to communicate, or to be understood and that communication fails if one uses the language that some people cannot understand.
Nyamatcherenga also has a tip on accent for presenters: “Never use borrowed accent to sound like a foreigner on a national radio or TV because that takes away the flavour of your national identity.”