Malawian newspapers on Wednesday has been dominated with events during the funeral service of the departed Paramount Chief Chikulamayembe of the Tumbuka (Nkhamanga Kingdom) at Bolero in Rumphi with both dailies carrying extended coverage through editorial comments condemning the drama and a governance commentator has added his voice to the political posturing.
"Shameful" was the banner headline in the Daily Times while its competitor, The Nation, also treated Chikulamayembe's funeral drama as a main story under the headline: "Shame on you."
Both papers detailed the drama after Church of Central Africa Presbyterian (CCAP) Livingstonia Synod general secretary Reverend Levi Nyondo wanted Vice-President Saulos Chilima and leader of opposition Lazarus Chakwera to be accorded time to give their eulogies.
But one of the chiefs grabbed the microphone from the reverend, asking all to respect protocol that demands that nobody makes remarks after the President.
After some interventions from chiefs and an apology was made directed to the church, the ceremony proceeded with a caution from the church- "Mungazakawelezgangaso cha!!!" [don't dare repeat this], in future similar ceremonies where they are involved, they must be involved in the making of the programme.
In extended coverage, The Daily Times editorial comment under the headline 'Let the departed rest in peace with honour', noted that the bad and unacceptable culture of politicking funerals of prominent figures is creeping into society.
It said none among the parties involved in the "drab drama" at Chikulamayembe's funeral can stand on the moral higher ground to claim innocence.
"All the parties involved are to blame," the paper said.
In The Nation, 'Political posturing at funeral unfortunate' was the headline of the editorial.
The paper designated a lot of space highlighting that the drama at the funeral was "out of order and a missed opportunity on the part of political leaders."
It said that traditionally, funeral services are solemn occasions which, in many instances, provide the bereaved families and society at large an opportunity to celebrate the life of the departed.
"It was, therefore, unfortunate and primitive for politicians to use the sombre ceremony for political posturing instead of celebrating the departed chief's life by giving him a befitting farewell. The rivalry and partisan stunts were a missed opportunity," reads the editorial in part.
The paper said politics should not make Malawians discard their cultural values and commended the CCAP Synod of Livingstonia clergy for noting the anomalies based in political posturing and condemning the same there and then.
Adding his voice, governance expert and commentator Makhumbo Munthali told Nyasa Times that the events during the funeral in Rumphi are "regrettable and embarrassing."
He also noted that it is now becoming common that during high profiled funerals government has used such platforms to bar other politicians to speak, and fears such a trend will continue especially as the nation approach the 2019 Tripartite Elections.
Munthali also observed rightly like the papers that in State affairs, there is set protocol to recognise the presence of holders of public office and that indeed one does not lose their influence by merely stating relevant salutations.
"I believe if government in consultation with the bereaved families and officiating clergy jointly came up with the program which amongst other things would ensure that the representatives of opposition parties [give their eulogies] as well as the Synod General Secretary, the embarrassment the Synod brought in front of the President Peter Mutharika by lecturing government right protocols would have been avoided.
"After all, late Chikulamayembe is well known to have been non-partisan and wielded respect across political divide, and as such it would have been fair enough to us give other political parties a chance to appreciate such a life," Munthali told Nyasa Times.
He disputed that at a State funeral government should exercise monopoly in deciding on who should speak.
"Whether State funeral no State funeral government must directly consult the family, chiefs and even the officiating church when coming up with the program. This would ensure that no political party hijacks the funeral to score a political point. It's sad to note that the DPP has often viewed funerals as a critical juncture to directly or indirectly campaign hence viewed the presence of fierce critics like UTM and MCP at funerals as a threat no wonder denying them any opportunity to speak.
["Its important that our politicians realised that funerals are sad moments which often unite people of different political background as they mourn their beloved ones. Moving forward I would recommend that a code of conduct during state funerals or any high profiled funeral where various political leaders attend should be developed and signed by all political leaders, chiefs and churches," he said.
Munthali said the Code of Conduct should clearly illustrate how these figures should conduct themselves in the context of such funerals.
"It should further state that if one politician from one political party speaks then certainly those of other political parties should do likewise as long as they stick to the message of funeral.
"It is a fact that most of our political parties in Malawi do not have clear convincing ideologies and plans to move the country out of abject poverty, and as such they seize every funeral opportunity to symbolically show that they are human and caring when in actual fact they are not," said Munthali.
He pointed out that in Malawi history some State funerals members of the opposition have been allowed to speak.
Born Walter John Hardy Gondwe, Themba la Mathemba Chikulamayembe succumbed to low blood pressure on Thursday last week aged 86.
May the soul of Paramount Chief Chikulamayembe rest in eternal peace.