The sound that defines the city

You can’t walk through the city for more than two minutes without seeing the minibuses ferrying people around. They leave only when they’re full to the brim, and it’s up to the contracted street vendors to shout out the destinations with the hope of enticing passengers to board. You’ll hear this sort of shouting all over the city.

In five words

Named after David Livingstone’s birthplace

Best building

It has to be the St Michael and All Angels Church, which was constructed from 1888 to 1891. The church was designed by Rev David Clement Scott who had no prior architectural training, but instead had the help of residents. The reverend described it as “the first permanent Christian church erected … between the Zambezi and the Nile”. Without a sketch or plan, and using bricks made on-site, these inexperienced men managed to erect an architectural masterpiece that remains a source of pride for the city today.

Favourite venue

A bar called Mustang Sally is the venue of the moment. It has an in-house group called the Mingoli Band who perform twice a week, playing versions of local Malawian music, rumba from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as well as British and American pop. These live music nights have become increasingly popular with middle-aged couples, as younger (and rowdier) folk tend to steer clear of this sort of music, giving the mature age group some space to enjoy their evening without disturbance from a raucous crowd.

Homegrown talent

Patience Namadingo, a contemporary afro-gospel musician from Malawi, is making waves with his recent album Lero (Today). The first single, Msati Seke (Don’t Laugh at Us), infuses a catchy acoustic strum over a heavy bass line and drum track, and has Blantyrites knocking knees at weddings, bars and clubs.

The look on the street

African print clothes.

African print is becoming increasingly popular. Many people buy ready-made clothes, or they buy the cloth and take it to a local tailor to make any style they want. Women were the first to embrace this trend, but men soon followed.

The most underrated location

Mandala House is the oldest building in the city. Built of mud, grass and bricks in 1882, it was used as a supply depot for missionaries and pioneers from Europe. Today, the building houses La Cavera art gallery and the Society of Malawi, which has a library and an archive of images telling the story of Blantyre, and the history of Malawi. Unfortunately the majority of residents in Blantyre don’t acknowledge it as a place of historical and cultural importance – there’s not enough push by the government to promote historical sites in the city.

Best cultural Instagram

Ed Tembo’s photographs of Blantyre and surrounding countryside give you a glimpse into what life can be like for the average Blantyrite.

Biggest controversy?

Our city’s water supply is in the hands of the Blantyre Water Board (BWB), and for years the supply to households and businesses has been intermittent. BWB has given ludicrous excuses as to why Blantyre’s supply has been erratic – during the dry season, it’s the low water levels in the lake, and during the rainy season, it’s the silt that keeps clogging their main pump.

In early 2015, activist John Kapito, chairman of the Consumer Association of Malawi, organised a protest that urged Blantyre’s residents to collect their excrement to pelt at the headquarters of BWB. At the last minute, Kapito called off the planned protests – a move that seemed to infuriate some Blantyrites even more.

Worst building

The Abdul Qadir Enterprises building in Limbe, Blantyre.

The worst building has to be the Abdul Qadir Enterprises building in Limbe, a town in the Blantyre district with a strong presence of Malawian Asian-owned shops. Built between the 1950s and 70s, the shop is just a block of bricks and has no character at all, and is in a dilapidated state. There are many similar buildings in the city, and recently Blantyre city council has marked them with the red star, which is a sign that they’re due to be demolished.

The red star campaign started in the early 1990s, but when Malawi became a democratic state in 1994, the earmarked buildings were repainted and forgotten by the council. The current red star structures are set to be hit by the wrecking ball in March this year.

How green is your city?

In November 2014, mayor Noel Chalamanda launched the Keep Blantyre City Clean and Green Initiative, which has received a lot of support by major companies in the city. The campaign includes public-sweeping exercises, tree planting, encouraging residents not to litter, and getting companies to stick to their corporate social responsibility commitments.

The government has also banned plastic bag manufacturers from making thin plastic shopping bags because of their effect on the environment. Supermarkets are now charging for the new recyclable bags and, as a result, Blantyre is looking cleaner and greener.

What does your city do better than any other?

You can get the best Fanta in the world. Blantyre is home to the Southern Bottlers factory that makes Fanta and a 2010 study by the University of Western Australia found that 77% of consumers picked the Malawian Fanta over its Australian and South African counterparts.

Moment in history

In 2001, according to one survey, Blantyre was crowned “the world’s top city”: cheaper than New York, more peaceful than Paris and much cleaner than London. This was an extremely proud moment for Blantyre, beating other international cities despite being located in one of the poorest countries. One resident, who moved from Liverpool to Blantyre, summed up the city in a few words: “I’ve never lived anywhere more friendly, homely or relaxing. It’s heaven.”

Best local artist

Malawian artist Guy B Raspy.

Guy B Raspy works with pencil and paint, and sells his work through social media and in pa Ziboliboli, a central area of the city where local curios and paintings are sold on the street.

Top insider’s tip

If you are ever in Blantyre, don’t leave without trying the quail (Zinziri), a central part of the city’s food culture. It’s sold at supermarkets, barbecued at bars and features prominently on the menu at the Mount Soche hotel, one of the city’s finest.

Five to follow

Dannie Grant Phiri

Penny Paliani

Dr Mary Mkandawire

Limbani TayGrin Kalilani

Dr Joyce Banda

From me

Mkotama Katenga-Kaunda.

Mkotama Katenga-Kaunda is a born and bred Blantyrite. He writes for the International Association for Political Science Students’ blog, A Different View. You can follow him on Twitter here.

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