It seems like a case of words being lost in translation for a Dowa woman, Loyce Misheck.
She has dragged herself into poverty after selling her property to pursue promises of a house, two fridges and a lorry that she claims Malawi President Joyce Banda and international supermodel Sandra de Vasconcelos Mota e Cunha, better known as Tasha de Vasconcelos, made in 2009, but which key players Nation on Sundayinterviewed to verify her claims say the two never pledged.
It is a bitter end to a story that began—at least to Misheck—on a promising note on November 10 2009.
Even her own MP has disassociated himself from her claims and pursuits.
Misheck, 46, claimed that then vice-president Banda and Tasha made the promises when the former addressed a rally at Kasese Trading Centre, which is situated just before Bua River when driving along the M1 Road from Lilongwe.
She claimed that while the President offered the lorry and fridges, the model promised to build a house for her.
Tasha is a Mozambique-born Canadian model, actress and humanitarian who featured alongside Rowan Atkinson (Mr Bean) in the 2003 blockbuster Johnny English.
She is founder and ambassador of the charity AMOR (Aide Mondiale Orphelins Réconfort) which focuses on fighting maternal mortality.
Bitter and deep into poverty
Four years down the line, Misheck is bitter and deep into poverty after selling her land and other property to raise money for travel and phone calls to contact the President and other people who could help her get what she believed belonged to her.
Speaking in an interview at her home at Kasese last week, Misheck said in pursuit of the promises, she has lost everything to raise resources to travel to Lilongwe several times to track Banda to fulfil the said promises.
Her story began with a shop.
Misheck said she was a happy woman living in a two-bedroomed mud house at Kasese. The house, she said, had a partition which served as a shop where people would buy goods on wholesale.
She said the shop used to stock all that a rural household would need. Some of her biggest customers were patients and guardians from a private hospital run by Life Line Malawi, which lies less than 50 metres from her compound.
She said while she lived her happy life in the mud shack, Tasha and her friends came to her compound and asked why her house was in such bad shape.
Misheck said she told Tasha that she did not have the money to improve the house. In her response, she claimed, the model told her that the next day she would hear good news.
“The next day, there was a rally addressed by both Joyce Banda and Tasha, and I heard it all: Tasha said she would build me a better house with a [convenient store] attached to it.
“After her, Joyce Banda spoke. She said as government, they were also interested in helping a woman who was serving mothers, so she said government would give me a three-tonne vehicle and two refrigerators to help my business.
“I heard it; I was on the hospital veranda and after the rally, people came and danced on my veranda, singing that I was the luckiest woman alive. I knelt down and thanked God for touching me,” said Misheck, tears building up in her sunken eyes.
Traditional Authority (T/A) Chakhadza, who lives about 30 kilometres from Kasese, confirmed that the promises were made. He said he attended the rally.
“The next day, MP for Dowa Ngala, Mr [Cara] Gawanani drove to my house and told me that I was a lucky woman. He repeated the promises Banda had made and he said government had appointed him to follow up the issue. He took down my name and told me that technicians would soon come and survey the area,” said Misheck.
Weeks began creeping by. Five weeks later, there was no news, and Misheck went to meet Gawanani who, she said, told her to wait a little longer for the surveyors to examine the land before the construction started.
She claimed that Gawanani also told her to vacate the old house since it would have to be taken down. Misheck said out of excitement, she obtained a loan and built a makeshift house next to her mud house and waited for the surveyors to come.
They never came, she said.
“After three more visits, I had no money, so I sold a piece of land I had at about K40 000 (about $100) to help me chase the issue. We went to T/A Chakhadza who gave us a letter and told us to go to Gawanani to help us get to the district commissioner’s office so that we could secure an appointment with Banda.
“Gawanani said he was busy with a funeral and didn’t help us. When we went to the DC, she asked to see us both with the MP, but he never came and that happened three times. On the fourth occasion, he came but the talks were not conclusive. He pushed the issue to a Vitsitsi at OPC [Office of President and Cabinet],” she claimed.
As the chase for the so-called promises intensified, Misheck said she and her husband had to sell a sofa set she bought at K225 000 (about $562) at a mere K80 000 ($200) to help them push the issue.
She said they went to Lilongwe where they claim to have met Goodall Gondwe, who was Minister of Local Government and Rural Development at the time.
A follow up the promises
We could not reach Gondwe to confirm his role, but Misheck said the former Cabinet minister tried to call Gawanani, but the MP did not pick up his phone.
“All the houses you see to the left of my houses are built on land I sold to pursue the issue. I had chairs and sofas and my shop was stacked to the brim, but now all that is gone and still I cannot get the promises fulfilled,” said Misheck, weeping uncontrollably, forcing her husband and two sons to drop their heads in sorrow.
She claimed that at some point she spoke to President Banda who asked Gawanani to follow up the promises with Tasha.
“I spoke to her through Gawanani’s phone and Joyce Banda acknowledged my pain and pleaded with Gawanani to help me by following up the issue with Tasha since she was not fully operational in her office,” said Misheck.
She said they have travelled to Lilongwe 11 times to push the issue.
At some point, she said, they went to State House to meet the late president Bingu wa Mutharika but they were not granted audience.
But Jacqueline Cunha, who is AMOR communications director, told Nation on Sunday in an e-mail interview two weeks ago that the issue arose out of a communication breakdown.
“We wish to inform you that this issue was discussed and concluded during the meeting between district health commissioner, Mr Jones Masiye, chief of village, a committee council of the village advisory board and Mr Gift Dula, the representative of Lifeline Malawi, and representative of AMOR Foundation, all present in Kasese, December 2011.
“There was a written report documented to terminate this issue by the district commissioner. AMOR is surprised and disappointed that this issue is being raised again as it was terminated in the presence of all the above concerned as a grave communication misunderstanding,” said Cunha.
Masiye, who was transferred from Dowa, said he has no idea about the issue.
The district commissioner who has handled the issue, James Manyethera, who was also moved from Dowa and his successor, Stuart Ngoka, despite confirming handling the matter, doubted the authenticity of Misheck’s claims.
“I have heard of that, and I should say the woman gives me some unnecessarily busy time. I hear the white lady vehemently denied having promised her a house…but she doesn’t take it and she has been to many offices over this issue,” said Ngoka.
Presidential press secretary Steven Nhlane acknowledged that President Banda visited the area at the time, but denied that she made the promises to Misheck.
“On the material day, the President, then vice-president, visited the maternity wing of the health centre and gave usual gifts to women in the maternity ward. The alleged promise is, in my view, unusual.
“The President did not visit any other women groups,” said Nhlane.
In an interview on Thursday, Gawanani said the issue needs to rest as Micheck has no basis for the claims.
“I was there when the hospital was being opened. I never heard of the promise and when she made the claims, I thought the promise was made in closed-door meetings. I never went to her house to promise her anything. I was told by the DC of the issue and went there to investigate.
“The President, when she was vice-president, summoned me to her office and asked me about the claim. She told me she didn’t promise anybody anything and wondered if maybe it was me. Fortunately, when Tasha came to Malawi, we made her go back to the hospital and asked her on the same.
“She was very disappointed and denied having promised any individual,” said Gawanani.