I learned with great shock, a few hours ago this Friday
night, that Hastings Maloya is no more. Malawi has lost a young, unique dynamic
Malawian who combined a passion for the environment, a zeal for
communication and a love for conservation. In addition to being an environmentalist and a conservationist, Hastings was also journalist, blogger, public relations practitioner and cultural conservationist, among many other hats he wore.
I first met Hastings Maloya in 2004. I had travelled to
Mulanje to visit Our Hope Private School, which he was running with a group of
friends. I had brought him a blue t-shirt with the words “Post Oak Elementary School,”
given to me by Mrs Mary Krouse. Mrs Krouse, now retired, was then a 5th
grade teacher at Post Oak, in Lansing, Michigan, USA. She was an experienced
mentor teacher in whose class I supervised post-bachelors degree students
interning for their certification to teach at Michigan State University. She
wanted to twin her 5th
grade class with a Malawian 5th
grade class. I posted the request on Nyasanet, and Hastings Maloya replied
I spoke to the children at Our Hope on August 16th
2004, and took some pictures with them. I also took some artefacts they had
asked me to take back to their friends at Post Oak. Our Hope didn’t last long;
it closed a year or so later, but Hastings held on to hopes that it would
reopen one day. I remained very good friends with Hastings, and got to admire a
number of things that made him stand out as a uniquely talented Malawian.
He dedicated his professional life to the environment in general,
and to Mulanje Mountain in particular. The third highest peak in Africa,
Mulanje Mountain is a rare monument that holds amazing wonders. Yearly tourists
visit the mountain from all corners of the world, and some attempt to go to its
no-go areas. The highest peak on Mulanje Mountain, Sapitwa, means just that:
no-go. In the last ten years at least two tourists have attempted to reach
Sapitwa, with fatal consequences.
On the morning of 12th
2003, Linda Pronk, a lab technician from the Netherlands working for VSO, set
off on her own to scale Sapitwa. When she did not return by night, search and
rescue teams were despatched, but did not find her. She has never been found,
to this day. According to Peter Mitunda, Malawian filmmaker Villant Ndasowa
produced a 30-minute documentary on Linda Pronk’s missing, a review of which is
. There is also a 3 minute video clip
Youtube. Mitunda’s review of the documentary mentions two other known
disappearances on Sapitwa. Patrick Phewa disappeared in 1943, whereas Kubwalo
Mwabvi disappeared in 1992. They were both Malawian locals who came from the
August 2009, grass cutters found the body
of Gabriel Buchmann, who had been reported missing three weeks earlier on July
. Buchmann was a Brazilian
studying at the University of California at Los Angeles
(UCLA), in the United States. He too had hoped to climb Sapitwa Peak, without
the help of trained guides.
In both the 2003 and 2009 episodes, which grabbed
international headlines, Hastings Maloya was the public face of Mulanje
Mountain. He was Programme Officer for Education and Communications for the
Mount Mulanje Conservation Trust MMCT, where he started working on 1st
September, 2002, according to what he wrote on his blog
. In 2010 Hastings
became chairperson of the SADC Environmental Forum, ascending to a remarkable
position in recognition of his work on environmental activism and conservation.
Previously he had worked as a reporter at the Malawi Broadcasting Corporation. Hastings
wrote on his blog and in the local print media about the disappearance
of Linda Pronk
, and spoke to local and international media on the death of
As an environmentalist, Hastings was a walking library of
knowledge about Mulanje Mountain and about the environment in Malawi. I nursed
the hope that he was one day going to sit down and write a book about the
mountain, something I suggested to him on more than one occasion. He promised
he would. He liked to post pictures on facebook and on his blog, in which he
was lovingly and nonchalantly caressing deadly snakes. I once asked him what it
took to learn how to do that, and he said it was a matter of training. He was
an avid sports lover, and actively promoted the annual Mt Mulanje Porters Race.
Hastings had a strong presence in Malawi's social media sphere. He founded and moderated an environmental discussion forum, before co-founding and moderating the google forum for the Malawi chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA). As a blogger, he promoted environmentalism and conservation. He was a prominent feature on Nyasanet, where many of us first met him, before meeting him face to face. Countless times Malawians in the diaspora would make contact with Hastings as they planned trips to Malawi, and would make it a point to visit Mulanje just to see him. He did the same on his travels around the world, using social media to connect with other Malawians in the diaspora.
In November 2011 I joined a team of colleagues who were
visiting schools in Mulanje district. The next afternoon I walked over to
Hastings’ office, and found him out on a long lunch. I phoned him, and he asked
me to wait, he was just turning the corner. He asked, half-jokingly and half-seriously,
if I had any interest in seeing his snakes. I told him absolutely no way. I had planned to go up the mountain to see how far an hour's hike would take. I asked Hastings if it was safe to do so, and if I needed a guide. He reassured me it was safe, and that for an hour's hike up from Kara O' Mula Lodge, I would not need a guide. I was surprised to find robust cellphone network deep into the recesses of that of the mountain, which enabled me to tweet my way up and down the trail.
That afternoon Hastings told me about an exciting project that was about to be launched in Mulanje district. A remote village was going to have electricity for the first time ever, solely powered by a hydro-electric plant on a falls along Likhubula River. He and his colleagues were very excited about it. He also gave
me calendars, magazines and annual reports prepared by the MMCT. I told him I was
particularly interested in MMCT’s project to have UNESCO designate Mulanje Mountain as a World Heritage
. It would be Malawi’s third such site, after Lake Malawi, and Chongoni Rock Art in Dedza.
Should this happen, it will be a dream come true for Hastings.
It would also be a fitting tribute to his life and work to protect Mulanje
Mountain and to promote ecological consciousness in Malawi and beyond. May your
soul rest in eternal peace, Mbwiyanga, Mapwiya Mung’onong’ono.