Malawi: Rose Chibambo

I don’t believe in putting children in orphanages. You alienate them from the protective environment of the family. Giving orphans some sense of hope is worth every energy and time.

— Rose Chibambo

Rose Chiwambo (77) was born in Kafukule in Mzimba District. She is the first Malawian woman to hold a cabinet post. She was appointed Deputy Minister of Community and Social Development in 1963 after winning the Mzimba South seat. She began mobilizing Malawian women in 1952 into a political force. She fled the country in 1964 following a cabinet crisis. She stayed in exile for 30 years, until her return in 1993 at the advent of multi-party politics. She is now settled in Mzuzu doing charity work, concentrating on HIV/Aids prevention.

One day in 1951, Rose Chiwambo, a housewife living in the colonial capital of Zomba, was heading home from the market, when she noticed a group of well-known chiefs gathered at the community hall. She approached one chief to inquire on the matter, who firmly replied, “This is not for women.” That evening she raised the issue with her husband. His reply, “It’s up to you.” “I started going from house to house to get support from the women and soon formed the Nyasaland African Women’s League." The colonial government was trying to influence the chiefs to endorse the federation of Northern Rhodesia (Zambia), South Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) and Nyasaland (Malawi). The plan received resistance from the people of Nyasaland and led to the formation of Nyasaland African Congress. Rose Chiwambo’s husband was a leading activist. Today, the former politician dedicates all her energy and time towards charity work, fighting the HIV/Aids pandemic. She became the first woman cabinet member, when Malawi attained independence in 1964. But her political career was short-lived, after the cabinet crisis in 1968. She went into a 30-year exile with her husband. In the whole country of Malawi, HIV/Aids has brought havoc in communities, leaving behind thousands of destitute orphans, widows, widowers and old people. Unfortunately, the family’s breadwinner is usually the victim. “It’s pathetic, especially here in Mzuzu where traditional practices worsen the irresponsible ‘city life',” says Rose Chiwambo. “People need information on the impact of HIV and Aids. Behavioral change must be seriously addressed because closing down the dozens of ‘rest houses’ is not a solution.” “Alongside promiscuity, there are traditional practices including circumcision, polygamy, ear-piercing and tattooing, widow inheritance and forced marriages that must be tackled.”

Church Action Relief Development (Card)