The culture of opportunism in Malawiâ€™s politics is so entrenched that one is hard-pressed to find people who commit themselves to their political parties come rain, come sunshine. That is why Roseby Dinala stands out of the lot for her unwavering loyalty to the Malawi Congress Party (MCP), a party she has served with dedication for over 50 years. Emmanuel Muwamba was at her home in Blantyre this week and he tells her amazing story.
Roseby Dinala, popularly known as Mai Dinala, shudders when she remembers the day she received the news that Malawiâ€™s first president Ngwazi Hastings Kamuzu Banda had died on November 25, 1997.
Since then, a portrait of the former president has been hanging on the wall in her living room and said she has another one in her bedroom.
Dinala explains that the pictures are meant to preserve the name and history of the fallen Ngwazi, the countryâ€™s first president.
Also hanging comfortably on the walls of the living room are two other portrait pictures; one of MCP president John Tembo which hangs directly below Kamuzuâ€™s while hers, taken way back in 1976, hangs on the opposite wall.
â€œAs you can see, Ngwazi Kamuzu is on top there, that is a sign of respect. I respect him so much because he was the first president of Malawi, and I joined politics out of love of the party and the leadership,â€ said Dinala at her Chitawira house in Blantyre.
Leaning against a cane chair, the relaxed Dinala, 74, who is chairperson of the MCP Womenâ€™s League for Blantyre declares that she will serve the party as an honour to Kamuzu until her death.
She said she does not harbour ambitions of jumping ship because doing so will be betraying the former presidentâ€™s principles of one, united MCP.
MCP at heart
Narrating her political journey, traced from 1965, Dinala said the most rewarding part of her political career is the all-paid-for housing, water and electricity bills by the party she still remains loyal to.
Out of affection for Kamuzu, Dinala continues to wear MCP regalia even when she is attending functions organised by other parties.
She is always spotted with a Kamuzu badge pinned on her left lapel, a sign of respect for the former president, she said.
Recently, she stunned UDF functionaries at Chileka Airport and caught the attention of former Bakili Muluzi when he was returning from South Africa to attend to the arrest and sickness of his son Atupele.
Muluzi embraced her in recognition of commitment to MCP and the two chatted briefly. Later, Dinala followed Muluzi to Mwaiwathu Private Hospital in Blantyre where Atupele was admitted to.
â€œI went to the airport to welcome the former president because he is a Malawian and former president. He deserves respect just like any other Malawian and president. We have to respect our elders,â€ she said.
â€œI also welcomed Atupele at Mwaiwathu because he is our son and a Malawian. That is what Malawians are supposed to do. We need to love one another regardless of party affiliations. I am setting that example for others to emulate.â€
Dinala, a member of the Womenâ€™s Guild at St. Columba CCAP Church, traces her political roots to a former senior member of the African National Congress, the late Lali Lubani.
The Nyasaland African Congress, banned in 1959, was the predecessor to MCP.
Kamuzu became the first MCP president and later first president of Malawi until 1993.
MCP won all seats in the legislature in the 1961 Nyasaland elections and led the country to independence as Malawi in 1964, the year Dinala began active politics.
When the country became a republic in 1966, MCP was formally declared the only legal party in Malawi. All adult citizens were required to be party members.
Dinala was elected vice-chairperson for MCP Soche Branch before she rose through the ranks to her current position, which she has held since 1984.
MCP lost its monopoly on power in the 1993 referendum and was soundly defeated by UDF in 1994.
Several people who were at the heart of the MCP regime switched to UDF, but Dinala has remained a staunch supporter of the party despite the loss of political clout.
At the last general elections, held on 19 May 2009, Tembo, a long-time confidant of Kamuzu, amassed only 30.7 percent of the vote while the party won 26 out of 193 seats.
Dinala argued that Tembo did not lose the elections.
â€œWe did not lose that election. We were duped by fraudsters,â€ she alleged. â€œBut we are determined that we will govern this country again, that is not too long from now. We are confident that 2014 will be our year.â€
â€˜I am not an opportunistâ€™
Dinala has resisted the temptation to join other political parties, including former ruling parties, UDF and DPP.
She said being when people join a party because of money, they cannot speak or stand on the position of principle when dealing with issues.
â€œI am not an opportunist. When they get the money, they are told to castigate their opponents. I cannot do that in my life, that is why I will never quit MCP. I am principled.
â€œThis is the party that I have known and served. I will not betray its leadership. I will stand by the four cornerstones [loyalty, obedience, discipline and unity],â€ she said.
Dinala is a celebrated mother. She gave birth to 14 children, but only seven are living. She has 25 grandchildren and 16 great grandchildren.
Dinala wants portraits of the countryâ€™s former presidents to hang side by side with the incumbent in public places. This should have started with Bakili Muluzi, she said.
The veteran politician believes the Muluzi regime did well in many areas but wonders why Muluzi removed names of Kamuzu on infrastructure such as Kamuzu Stadium, Kamuzu International Airport and Kamuzu Central Hospital.
â€œBut I saluted Bingu for reversing the decisions. Kamuzu deserves respect. I was a very happy person when Bingu made that decision,â€ said Dinala.
Mutharika also honoured Kamuzu by building a mausoleum in Lilongwe, about 10 years after the death of the former president.