Fare thee well,Justice Maxon Mbendera SC

Fare thee well Justice Maxon Mbendera Sc “Greetings my fellow Malawians. I present myself before you to announce that the Malawi Electoral Commission has prepared to hold by-elections on October 4 this year in one constituency and four wards which have been without representation.” This was the opening paragraph which was prepared for Justice Maxon Mbendera to be recorded and broadcast on national television and radio yesterday, Tuesday, August 23. This was supposed to be part of the launch of the by-elections which the Commission was planning to hold in one constituency, Mchinji West and four wards; Kaliyeka Ward in Lilongwe City South East Constituency, Sadzi Ward in Zomba Central Constituency, Bunda Ward in Kasungu Central Constituency and Bembeke Ward in Dedza South Constituency. The case of Mchinji West has been outstanding for some time. The vacancy arose because of the death of MP, Hon Burton Kanjira Banda on March 13 this year. The Commission then planned to hold the by-elections on May 10 but it never got funding on time. This also coincided with the expiry of term for the former Commissioners and also the end of government financial year. The latter reason meant MEC could not access funding and had to wait for the passing of the current budget. The vacancies in the wards have arose between March, 2016 and now, the latest being in Bembeke Ward where the incumbent was convicted of a crime bordering on moral turpitude and dishonesty. As usual it has been the wish of the Commission to hold by-elections at the earliest feasible opportunity so that the electorate have representation in Parliament and local councils. With the 2016/17 budget having just passed in Parliament, MEC started the preparations, which mostly were in-house. Thursday, August 18 was a normal busy day as usual when elections are coming ahead. There was running up and down, meetings and briefings on preparations for the launch. Little did we know that a dark cloud would befall us. Justice Mbendera SC was also in good health and managed to attend to official duties. However, around 11am he felt unwell and was taken to a clinic in Lilongwe. He died shortly after admission. The news was a shock to everyone within MEC and all electoral stakeholders Justice Mbendera SC was appointed Chairman of the Malawi Electoral Commission on 10th October, 2012. His four year term is due to end on 9th October, 2016. During his stay as Chair of MEC he presided over the first-ever Tripartite Elections and two sets of by-elections thereafter. His name will go down into the history of democracy and elections in the country as the first Chairperson to have presided over the first Tripartite Elections in Malawi in May 2014. Before that, Malawi never had Tripartite Elections and no one could boast of experience in handling such magnitude. At MEC, we all witnessed the firm leadership he provided during the period to the extent that now we boast of holding a credible Tripartite Election. As Chairman of MEC, Justice Mbendera was vice-chairperson of the Electoral Commission Forum for SADC countries which is a grouping of electoral commissions in southern Africa. He participated in various assignments in the region especially in electoral observation and our colleagues have also sent messages that they are mourning with us on his unexpected departure. The Commission was looking up to him to provide leadership, mentorship and guidance as we lay a foundation for 2019 elections. More especially at time when there is a new Commission just appointed on June 6 this year. But suddenly that person, that fountain of wisdom is gone. We mourn him. It is reality to us that “death of a man like him is like burning of a library”. The Commission will miss his leadership. Justice Mbendera was also an accomplished lawyer and a renowned Judge of the Supreme Court of Malawi. Our prayer filled thoughts of peace and comfort go out to his family and all those deeply grieved by his passing. May his soul rest in eternal peace.