Malawi Pastor, Turning 100, Regrets Boat Tragedy ?
Patrick Ziba tells how four students died after stealing at an Adventist school.
By Andrew McChesney, news editor, Adventist World
A 100th birthday party may seem like a good time to celebrate a life well lived. But Patrick Ziba, a retired Adventist pastor and teacher in Malawi, saw his 100th birthday as an opportunity to share a tragic lesson about the importance of obedience to 150 well-wishers, including a state minister.
Ziba told how four students from a Seventh-day Adventist school perished with nearly 150 other people on a capsized ship on Lake Malawi after rejecting pleas to accept punishment for theft.
The tragedy, which happened when Ziba was 31, has tormented him for years. “Our father never tired of telling his children the story as a moral lesson that it pays to be obedient in life,” Margaret Limbe, the fifth of Ziba’s nine children, told the Malawi News Agency. “He has told us the story countless times from the time the tragedy happened.”
The story began when 14 students were caught stealing peanuts from a barn at the Luwazi Mission School in July 1946, according to an account of Ziba’s birthday published by the news agency. The theft of the school-grown peanuts had been going on for some time and was only discovered after an investigation into the barn’s shrinking supply.
The school principal gave the 14 students the option of being expelled or facing punishment. Each would have to dig an outhouse. The students, all from the same village, chose to go home.
Ziba, a teacher, thought that the students had made the wrong decision. He invited them to his home, where he and his wife urged them to accept the punishment. The students refused and left the campus on July 27 for the port of Nkhata Bay, where they planned to take a ship home.
Ziba wouldn’t give up. The next day he walked the 15 miles (24 kilometers) from the school to the port.
“He found the pupils at the port and again pleaded with them to return to school,” said his daughter. “He spent the whole day trying to reason with them.”
The students again balked.
Six of the students bought tickets and boarded the M.V. Vipya when it docked. The other eight scattered, looking for odd jobs to pay their passage.
The 130-foot (40-meter) ship, making its fourth trip since its launch a month earlier, sailed from the harbor with 194 passengers and crew on board, including the six students.
The Vipya, custom-made in Belfast by the same shipyard that built the Titanic, started to roll heavily amid a strong wind during the voyage, according to the Bradt travel guide Malawi. Suddenly, an enormous wave capsized the ship. At least 145 people drowned in the disaster, the worst accident ever on Lake Malawi. Only two Luwazi students were among the 49 survivors.
The news of the drownings devastated Ziba. He told the guests at his 100th birthday celebration at the Mzuzu Hotel, located in the city of Mzuzu, about 28 miles (45 kilometers) northwest of the port, that he still blames himself for not doing more to keep the students at school.
The Malawi News Agency, in its account of the December 28, 2014, birthday, editorialized that Ziba’s desire to help the 14 students exemplified his selfless life. “It is this virtue of willingness to help others that made the retired pastor popular wherever he lived, doing God’s work,” it said. “He may have retired today from preaching, but people still speak highly of him.” n