For most of us when we hear the name Kamuzu Banda a lot of things come into our mind: both good and bad. But there are certain small things about this first president that most of us either overlook or do not know. In this interview DUMASE ZGAMBO-MAPEMBA caught up with the former official hostess, Mama Cecilia Kadzamira. She gives us a glimpse into the soft leisure side of Kamuzu and her charity work among others.
As I get into her room at Nkopola Lodge in Mangochi, she fusses around as if I am such an important person. I am humbled to see the way she treats me. She doesn’t overdo it, but she makes sure I am seated comfortably before we begin our chat. She smiles at me like we have known each other for a long time. In my mind I am thinking “what a wonderful woman she is”.
What are you doing this Christmas?
As usual I will go to church and rejoice on this glorious day. I will listen to carols and probably enjoy watching plays. Then we will have a nice lunch at home as usual with family and friends. And on Boxing Day, I cannot wait to have my nieces and nephews take me to lunch somewhere!
When is your birthday?
10th of March. In advently, that’s the day I was given the life achiever award. (She says it proudly and fondly).
Are you at liberty to tell us your age?
Ha ha ha. I don’t remember. (She says it jokingly). You do not ask a woman about her age (She continues to laugh).
Did Dr Banda have a special meal on Christmas day?
After visiting the sick and needy, attending church and thanking God for Jesus’ birth and the rains as a farmer, he would sit down to a turkey with lots of his favourite vegetables. He would then have a special rich Christmas pudding in form a fruit cake.
As a person that was really close to Kamuzu Banda, what was his social life?
(She chuckles) He liked to be among people, especially children and he enjoyed music. He enjoyed music.
What type of music?
He liked the western and traditional type. He liked the western type because he had been out of this country for over 30 years. Until he came back to Africa through Ghana, that is when he revived his love for traditional music. He noticed that some of the traditions or cultures in Ghana were almost like what we have here.
He was a very simple eater. He did not go for these exotic foods. Being a doctor, he knew what food was good for him or not. He had beef, chicken. (She chuckles) Free running, nice tasty local chicken. He never got used to nsima. After being away for so long, he lost his love for it. He liked rice and lots of vegetables. He could eat nkhwani otendera or cooked with tomato only, masamba a khobwe, khwanya and dried leafy vegetables (mfutso). But therere – no. (She smiles fondly).
He never took alcohol. All the years I had known him, he never did. Not even wine; it would just upset him. He may have sipped sweet Champagne during a toast at times. Sometimes we would just put clear water in his glass and it would look like wine (she says it fondly and with admiration). He never smoked and was very healthy.
Why was he still that athletic?
He was still climbing stairs until the day he fell ill and never recovered. (The mood changes. There is pain in her voice and I can feel it). Mudi never had any lifts, but we eventually were trying to install some when he got ill. (Admiringly) He used to climb the stairs up and down, remarkably! (She laughs as she gets lost into the memory lane) You would find that we, the young ones, when we go up the stairs getting tired. And he would ask “What? What’s wrong with you” and when you tell him that your leg is giving you problems, he would laugh and shake his head and say “ Oh, no!”
Did he have a favourite sport?
Walking: all his residences had specific areas where he could walk. For example, at Zomba State House, the entrance is low. But you ascend as you go to the residences. As you go to the gardens, you go up the steps. He had a coffee garden; and that was his specialty. He liked farming, but he liked growing coffee more. In fact, the governor general had put up a small coffee garden which had about 12 to 15 plants within the state residences. When Dr. Banda took residence, he planted more than a 100 plants. (She pauses, her gaze going beyond me). He loved farming. He had big complex of farms that were mostly used as teaching grounds for local farmers. Like in Mzuzu; over Chikwina way, he had a farm and was growing coffee then he gave it to the Young Pioneers as a training ground. In Kasungu, he had one too but he grew barley tobacco there. He later gave it to Young Pioneers just like some farms he had in the Southern Region. For most ordinary Malawians to start growing a bit of barley and gut fire tobacco, they learnt it through his farms.
What type of books did he read?
He read a lot of historical, biographies, autobiographies. Oh, he had all sorts of books in Spanish, Portuguese…
He knew those languages?
(Admiringly and confidently) Oh yes. He could speak Spanish; he could read or understand Portuguese. But speaking, I don’t know how, he spoke Spanish and Greek.
Oh, yes…that’s why when he set up the Kamuzu Academy; he wanted the students to be educated in languages. He said only when students know Latin, French, Greek and other languages, their minds are sharpened. (She says it matter-of-factly) And he was right. I could see the first crop from the academy by the time they left school; they were ladies and gentlemen (She laughs proudly). The academy has produced a lot of doctors, engineers, pilots and lawyers among others.
During the opening of the Kamuzu mausoleum, you mentioned that the Kamuzu government made some mistakes. Would you please shed more light on that?
No. You don’t do that (She laughs). It may cause a lot of arguments. People would say “do you know why we did that? It was because of this and that”. Some people would argue with them that “so why didn’t you correct it in the end?” (She laughs). I prefer people to just go back to their history and read. Every person, good or bad, has his or her traits. And you cannot please everybody. If you are a leader and you please everybody, then you are not a leader.
Tell us about your life after serving as the official hostess?
I still do charity work. I formed a community based organisation called Dzidalire. It is in Ntcheu and Dedza. We want to have it in all three regions. It started when a certain community asked me for help. I asked them what the most important thing was in this country. They said food. Then I advised them to start planting trees in their area. Previously Chitukuko Cha Amayi M’Malawi (CCAM) planted trees in that area, but over the years people cut or burnt them down and cultivated the land. We then raised funds for the project.
How did you raise funds?
We wrote to few individuals who helped us. As I am speaking now, they have a maize meal, and are helped by missionaries. We have plans to build a big maternity hospital. We just need to secure funding. That way is how I keep myself busy while helping others. I still work with Malawi Against Physical Disabilities. So, I write individuals in different countries to secure equipment for those with disabilities even for those in big hospitals. I also do a lot of farming in Mchinji, where I grow seed maize and beans (kholophethe). There are two villages where we look after orphans. So whatever we grow especially maize and soya beans, we donate to these kids. I also rear goats which are a source of protein to these orphans. But I still do my interior decoration; helping relations with their houses. By the end of the day, I am tired (She laughs heartily).
How is your health?
I have problems with my back, that’s why I walk with a stick. It is Arthritis that affects the vertebrae. You can’t bend for hours. I need to time it. I always say thanks to the Lord, despite Arthritis, He has given me good health.
What is your favourite meal?
Nsima ya mgaiwa with fish and lots of vegetables.