They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers. In those days Peter stood up among the believers, a group numbering about a hundred and twenty….Acts 1:14-15
The father and founder of Malawi, Dr. H. Kamuzu Banda, committed a lot of atrocities during his 31-year rule of Malawi. To some extent, these acts are usually added up and result in his rule being dubbed the reign of terror in Malawi’s history books.
As an analyst, with the privilege of having grown and raised along the margins of this giant, popularly known as the Lion (Nkango) of Malawi, I went to Blantyre girls school, and had the rare opportunity being in the throng of dancing primary school girls for Dr. Banda, the man who came to fight the “stupid Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland.” It was the first time I danced for Dr. Banda; and it was fun; he bought the entire school, a pair of Bata Shoe company’s patapata shoes.
The second time I danced for Kamuzu was to join Mai Margaret Mlanga as she danced with the Blantyre Women’s League. Is was at the July 6, 1971 celebrations at Kamuzu Stadium. And as a college freshman, it was a delight to dance for Kamuzu again, when he came to open the Chancellor College in June 1974; and later Kamuzu, as Chancellor of the University of Malawi (of which Chancellor College is a constituent college), caused us to live through his four hour Chichewa lectures.
As close as I sometimes liken myself to have been to Kamuzu Banda, also known as the Nkhoswe Number One of all women, whom he called his “mbumba,” it was possible as a scholar of history to observe him, and appreciate his philosophies on numerous topics during his lectures and political rallies.
One day from the podium, as he rattled on in his four-hour-out-in-the-October-sun Chichewa lectures, he underscored something my parents were also always talking about: girls and boys study hard, it is your future. And Kamuzu particularly stopped, and reiterated: girls work hard, and try to surpass the boys in your studies.
That is a challenge that resonated well with me. And the presidential “girls work hard” call, was buttressed by Kamuzu nominating women to the House of Parliament. He defended this by saying that although women can argue just as well as men, the women were never given the chance to win in elections. He nominated numerous women as members of parliament. Thus, the pioneer group of women in politics in Malawi was increased, by President Banda’s nominations. It must be said, there were some women who won on their own. There’s even some women that were appointed ministers by Dr. Banda.
Leap back to the future, the Malawi Parliament has evolved, and more women are in the august house, but the numbers are nowhere near the desired numbers. During the 2007 Constitutional review conference, where I was privileged to be a delegate, it was put forward to the Law Commissioner, Antony Kamanga, for the Constitutional Review Conference in the face of challenges women face in elections, for delegates to consider that the Constitution has a clause that would be a deliberate effort to ensure that increased numbers of women are included in elected offices. An example was made of Rwanda, Namibia and Mozambique as countries that had 30 percent women in parliament and other decision making offices.
It is therefore, very refreshing to see included in the report of the Special Commission on the new Elections Bill, a section that allows all districts in Malawi to have a special ballot just for women contestants.
This will entail that in every election cycle, there will be at least be 28 women who will be guaranteed a seat and will enter Parliament, after only competing with their fellow women. Any number of women beyond 28, will enhance the number of women in representation in parliament. It will increase the number of women’s voices to be heard in the debates.
This is definitely something to dance about. Justice Anthony Kamanga, Commissioner of the Special Commission on the Review of the Elections Bill, Sir we salute you and we say thank you!
Janet Zeenat Karim MaraviPost Senior Editor