First Malawian Secretary For President, Cabinet Jaffu Last Mile

By Kondwani Magombo, Mana

“Chitsime chomwe timakatapako nzeru chaphwa …Wagwa Mgwalangwa (The well where we tapped wisdom from has dried up … The palm tree has fallen down),” that is how the Vice President, Dr. Saulos Claus Chilima, opened his eulogy at George Austin Jaffu’s funeral in Mangochi on Saturday.

Jaffu died on Thursday, July 30, 2020, at the age of 82 in Blantyre and he was laid to rest with military honours at his home in Mpondasi, Traditional Authority (TA) Mponda, in the district.

Perhaps until his demise, George Austin Jaffu was not a name so familiar to many Malawians of late generation: but Jaffu leaves behind a legacy that goes beyond inspiring his family, his community and the nation at large.

Jaffu was the first Malawian to rise to the position of Secretary to the President and Cabinet (SPC) from 1972 to 1975 after Sir Brian Roberts of Queens Council.

“The Country has lost a man who, due to his dedication and hard work, remains a very good model to people who aspire to work in Civil Service with similar attitude,” the Vice President said. 

“The President, Dr. Lazarus Chakwera, has described late Jaffu as a man who was dedicated in all portfolios he worked to serve the nation,” Chilima continued.

Jaffu was born on October 7, 1938, at Mandimba Village in Malindi, Mangochi, in the family of George Wilson Jaffu and Eleanor Mtawaga, according to the information shared by the family.

He went to Malosa Primary and Secondary Schools and later to Blantyre Superior School before he landed his first job as clerk to the Fort Johnstone’s Chief Council from 1959– 1963.

Meanwhile, he had married Joyce Florence Kaposa, a School Teacher, in 1960 with whom he was blessed with five children, among them Fiona Atupele Jaffu (now Justice Fiona Mwale), and Brigadier General George Jaffu.

Jaffu later studied Public Administration at Mpemba leading to his job in government as Administrative Officer in the Ministry of Education and later as Principal Secretary for various Ministries among them Finance, Trade and Transport.

Chilima noted in his eulogy that Jaffu’s rising to the position of SPC was as a result of his hard work and dedication to serve Malawians the best he could.

“Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda had confidence in Mr. George Austin Jaffu and appointed him as Secretary to the President and Cabinet in 1973 succeeding Sir.  Brian Roberts,” he explained.

Jaffu retired in 1975 as SPC and after attending some courses in England, he worked as second in command at Packaging Industries, now Nampac, before he joined LONRHO Group of Companies in 1988 as General Manager.

He later became Chairperson of LONRHO Africa and later Board Chairman for NICO Holdings, where, according to Sangwani Hara, who spoke on behalf of NICO Holdings at the funeral,

Late Jaffu shall always be remembered as a leader who did not only inspire and mentor others but as the reason for the entity’s growth,

“Due to his leadership, we were able to navigate through hardships and not surprising, at Nico Holdings, he was the most successful Chairperson we ever had,” Hara explained.

He added that, “Mr. Jaffu presided over the expansion of NICO Group from a small composite insurance in the 1990’s to the large conglomerate it is today: Under his management, NICO was the first Group to expand and invest in Zambia, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Uganda, and Mozambique.

Jaffu’s friend, John Magombo, who was a PS and he retired from Civil Service together with the first Malawian SPC in 1975, narrated fond memories and families, he had with Jaffu.

Magombo extracted a few praises from renowned personalities who knew Jaffu very well and all he stood for.

Among those Magombo quoted is Chris Kapanga, a retired Old Mutual employee who wrote: “George Jaffu was our Chairman the whole 10 years I worked at NICO: a gentle giant. Rest in peace.”

Magombo quoted a renowned Civil Servant of Jaffu’s time, Mac Petrie Hanjahanja, who wrote: “Very sad indeed: Mr. Jaffu was the epitome of excellence in the manner he provided leadership in civil service and guidance to the government.”

Jaffu’s demise is a big blow to the Anglican Church both at the Holy Innocents in Limbe where he congregated and back home in Mangochi, where, among other things, he offered land for the Church.

He took part in many Church fundraising activities and, according to Rev. Canon Albert Nampanda, Dean of Saints Peter’s and Paul’s Cathedral in Mpondasi, Jaffu used to buy Yao religious books for the Church as a way of promoting the language among congregants.

All said, it is, perhaps, the fond memories that Jaffu has left among his family that complete the picture of the man’s noble legacy.

The emotional eulogies from that his children, grandchildren, and other family members made at the funeral left the hundreds of people who gathered to mourn Jaffu with heavy hearts.

“He was not a perfect man but he leaves a legacy,” lamented Justice Fiona Mwale, Jaffu’s youngest child.” Not in our wildest dreams did we imagine this sort of funeral for a man we called dad all these years: it speaks volumes of the greatness that he had. 

“He worked hard to build his reputation.” He used to tell us: “I don’t have much, but I have a name and I want each and every one of you to wear the name Jaffu with pride.”

He was a self-made man who always told us ‘hard work, ethics and integrity define a person and that one moment of indiscretion will live with you forever’.

Justice Mwale described her father as a generous provider and a man who had love for his family: “A proud man who took what he earned and felt entitled to nothing.”

It is such civility and selflessness that, perhaps, justifies funeral with military honours for the man who won Dr. Kamuzu Banda’s heart as the latter is on record to have fondly said “Jaffu my boy is running my Civil Service.”

But, perhaps, what’s more appealing is how Jaffu summed up his life when his children asked him in 2012 on how he would wish to be remembered.

He said: “People should remember me the way they feel… You cannot be perfect: You’ll win some, you will lose some. Just be good to others.”