The woman walking towards us at Deloitte offices in Inde Bank House in Blantyre looks young and energetic. She is in her late 30s, but her well-built body can deceive you to think she is much younger.
She is dressed in a flowing brown dress matching her high shoes and with her shiny flawless skin, she looks very much a career woman.
All in all, it was hard to take our eyes off this petite attractive woman as she hurriedly came to greet us.
“Give me a minute, I will be with you,” she says as she proceeds to assign junior members of staff who were waiting for her as she bade farewell to some colleagues going for lunch.
This woman, whose life has changed drastically from a mere netball enthusiast to the face of the game after assuming the office of Netball Association of Malawi (NAM) two weeks ago, is no other than Carol Bapu.
She produced one of the most famous upsets in netball elections after beating veteran administrator Hellene Mpinganjira by a 10-vote margin.
Mpinganjira, who has been with NAM for more than 10 years, was on the verge of retaining the position unopposed following the withdrawal of other contestants, but Bapu mastered the courage to challenge her.
As she finally joined us for an interview, one could easily tell from her face and tone that she is still coming to terms with the fact that she is now the face of Malawi netball.
But besides the instant fame and the hordes of fans that she has gained, Bapu is just grateful for the chance to make a contribution to the development of the sport in the country.
“It was tough and scary, facing Hellene who is regarded as the mother of netball in Malawi. But God gave me the belief and confidence that it was my game,” she said.
She did not play netball at the top level and never set foot at a Queens camp. In fact, she may be regarded as an amateur in netball administration as she is just three years old in the game’s administration levels.
So, with such a shallow CV compared to Mpinganjira who has been in netball administration for more than 20 years, what made her earn that massive support?
“I never gave people incentives, but offered people hope for a smooth future. I did not make promises, but presented plans that need all our efforts. My approach to make every stakeholder part of the equation won voters’ hearts who I promised to be real owners of NAM,” said Bapu, who works as administrative secretary.
She added: “I told people I would improve communication in NAM which was the cause of all chaos in the past; flow of right information to the right people at the right time, I offered just that,” she said.
She said the first thing NAM must do is to set up secretarial structures and have people employed on a full time basis to run the affairs of the game.
“Our colleagues at Football Association of Malawi have made strides by separating powers between the executive and the operational team. We need to employ accountants and a marketing team.
“Executive members should be handling policy issues and not funds. We need professionals who can prove to be accountable and transparent for the cooperate world to once again have faith in us,” she said.
“We must develop the much-talked-about strategy by the end of this year. It will define who we are, what we believe in, what we dream about and strive to achieve our purpose of existence. Netball is a women’s game and women sell, so, why should we fail to find sponsors?”
She also believes the national team has what it takes to break into the world’s top four from the fifth position it has maintained since 2006.
“The problem is we only wait for competitions to play top games. We need to be playing test matches as teams in the top four do. We cannot just expect to beat teams in the top-four bracket when we face them only at competitive level,” she said.
Bapu sounds authoritative about the game she never played at the top level, but where does the passion come from?
“I played netball when I was at Blantyre Girls Primary School in the late 80s alongside Mary Waya, Connis Mhone, Peace Chawinga Kalua and Ruth Kaipa. Then I went to Malosa Secondary School. I broke my leg in 1994 and that marked the end of my career,” she said.
She then pursued a diploma in secretarial studies at the Polytechnic and has been working in Blantyre since graduating. In 2005, she joined City Glass Queens, a social netball team that was playing in the lower league of the Southern Region Netball League.
“In 2010, I contested for the position of vice-chairperson for the Southern Region Netball Committee which I won and now here I am,” she said.
Born in Chilomoni, where she still lives, Bapu is the only woman in a family of five. Two of her brothers are late.
“I am not married and I have no kid. I am a CCAP member. I love reading novels and watching movies based on true stories,” she said.
She also holds an advanced diploma in business administration and a Chartered Institute of Marketing professional certificate.