WeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve all heard of you, but who were you before you became Rose Chibambo?
I was born Rose Ziba on 8th September 1928. I was the firstborn to my mother and the fifth born to my father since he remarried after his first wife died. What I remember most about my childhood is carrying ghee from Kafukule to sell at Zombwe, ferrying earth when the church at Kafukule was being built. I also remember doing all the household chores by age 12 and cooking meals for my parents who were often working in the field. I did my primary school at Kafukule Village School before being selected to Ekwendeni Boarding School. I did my Standard 1 to 5. I dropped out thereafter because a young man by the name of Edwin Chibambo, a son of a reverend of the church I belonged to and teacher at a station I was schooling, proposed that we get married. We got married in 1947 and moved to Livingstonia where Edwin taught for a little while. He then quit teaching and went to work as a station master with NTC Bus Service at Salima before being invited to join the government service in Zomba where my political life began. I then finished my Standard 6 at a night school in Zomba. I later did my adult and general education in England. We had six children together. The firstborn is Roy; he is the only son and lives with me. Next is Royce, who is married and lives in Zambia. The third born is Malibase who lives in Blantyre. Khataza, the fourth born, is also in Blantyre. Gadi, the fifth born, is a dentist married to an African American. She lives and practises in New York. Phumile, the last born, lives in Washington DC.
Why did you join politics?
Edwin was the treasurer of Zomba Branch of Nyasaland African Congress. When the federation was imposed in the early 1950s, political activities were at a high and my husband never came home on time. I was curious on what he was up to and confronted him. He explained that they were trying to organise themselves to fight federation. I asked him if there were any women involved and if I could attend the meetings, to which he agreed. Edwin explained politics to me and I can honestly say he influenced my decision to join and stay in the game.
You are famed for mobilising women into politics. What initiated this?
After I became interested in politics, I asked myself why women did not attend meetings. I began organising my fellow women. ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s how the WomenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s League was born. I talked to fellow women in my locality, I was only 24 and most of the people I tried to engage were much older than I was. I was elected Chairperson of the WomenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s League alongside the likes of Mrs. Chibambo, wife to late Qabaniso Chibambo
You were imprisoned in 1959, along with other Malawians whom the Federal government felt were a threat to British rule. Tell me about this…
I was arrested a day after I gave birth to my daughter. I was taken to Zomba Prison, where I spent a year. We slept on the cold hard floor and I shared the cell with other two WomenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s League members. Vera Chirwa also briefly spent time with us there. My child cried all night and we named her Gadi because of the circumstances surrounding her birth.
You were the first woman to be appointed deputy minister. What was working with Kamuzu like?
I was very close to Kamuzu. When he first came into the country, he did not really know what to do, so we organised all his meetings. I remember being chairperson of the decorations committee for the independence celebrations and I also remember going to the rural areas campaigning for the first elections.
What challenges did you face as a female politician?
I had to travel a lot, which was difficult because most roads in my constituency (Mzimba South) were impassable. Also, my fellow MPs did not like the fact that I let my people ask me questions and tell me what changes they wanted me to facilitate for them.
What gave you the courage to speak out in an age when women were expected to be subservient?
I spoke out because I knew the truth. I also grew up with parents who taught me to express myself and be honest. This is probably why Kamuzu couldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t stand me. I do not dabble in appeasement. Speaking your mind is not being disrespectful, Malawian tradition has that flaw and it affects women negatively. I believe that nobody should hesitate to speak what they feel.
After the cabinet crisis, you fled to Zambia on exile and were there for 30 years. What did you miss most about Malawi?
I missed my children. We left them with relatives in Ekwendeni when we went into exile. We tried to get them to join us but we couldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t. I always cried when I thought about my children and the suffering they were going through. The separation from my children left a deep scar in my life. I still wish I were there to influence their lives and give them a proper education. Roy finished his Standard 5 but they never accepted him because they said he was the son of rebels, one of my kids was expelled from Mzuzu Government Secondary School when I tried to send her money in the post, Gadi was dropped from university in Zambia because they started trimming down the number of foreign students, she struggled to get education in the US. Even now, I feel I failed them because they are not quite what I as a mother wanted them to be. You know, irrespective of how well someone else looks after your children, no one can replace a motherÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s love.
Why did you return to Malawi?
After multiparty politics was established, Chakufwa Chihana insisted that I return. He told Bazuka Mhango to drive me home. He even held a big emotional rally at Ekwendeni where he presented me to the people. Apart from that, I had always known that I had always wanted to come because my mother was still alive and my children were in Malawi. I always dreamt of building a house in Mzuzu and I am glad that dream came true.
How do you look at the current political situation in Malawi?
The beginning was good but the way things are going now, I am concerned. Economically, we are also suffering.
Are there any present-day Malawian female politicians that impress you?
I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t think any of them express their real feelings and intentions. The political scene today somewhat resembles that of the Kamuzu era after the Ã¢â‚¬ËœthreatsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ were removed following the Cabinet crisis. We have a politics where we praise the leader. People donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t seem to think independently. All they are thinking about is what I can say to praise the leader.
What would you advise Malawian female politicians?
They should be honest, they should have a commitment to work for the people and they should have love for the people they are representing. It is important that they interact with the people before going into Parliament so they present relevant issues.
What are the lowest moments in your life?
The death of my husband and separation from my children during exile are two of the hardest things I have had to endure. Edwin died while we were still in exile and was buried in Zambia, even though President Kaunda offered a plane to repatriate the body. Authorities in Malawi said he was a rebel and could not be buried in his homeland.
What do you do in your free time?
I am now tired, my dear, used to rear chickens but stopped in 2010. I sometimes go to the women fellowship. We have a group that donates soap, sugar, bread and other basics to prisoners.
YouÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve had a colourful life; any chances of you writing a book sometime soon?
IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m a good narrator, but not a writer! I began writing my book a long time ago but have not completed it yet. It is called The Journey of My Life.
Any last words?
Journalists must be strong because they speak for the voiceless. Remember, nobody wants to hear the truth. There are so many people who are frustrated and have stories to tell, yet they have no channels through which to voice out their complaints. When you write about real issues, these people feel relieved and hope that someone somewhere will listen. I believe that we all have a destiny in life, if you follow it, God will always reveal things that you should do. As individuals, we should never deviate from doing what is right.
Quick Facts about Rose
Helped fight for MalawiÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s independence
Founder and leader of WomenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s League
First and only woman in Nyasaland African Congress executive
Served as the Deputy Minister for Hospitals, Prisons and Social Welfare (1963-64)
First MP for Mzimba South
Is involved in charity work to raise funds for orphans