The late Bingu and former first lady Ethel Mutharika


10 An excellent woman [one who is spiritual, capable, intelligent, and virtuous], who is he who can find her? Her value is more precious than jewels and her worth is far above rubies or pearls. 

26 She opens her mouth in [skillful and godly] wisdom, And the teaching of kindness is on her tongue [giving counsel and instruction]. Proverbs 31:10, 26 (Amp)

Malawi’s lineup of the second most important person in Malawi has been an Official Hostess, First Ladies, and a First Gentleman. Of the six presidents that have ruled Malawi, the country has had six First Ladies, One First Gentleman, and one Official Hostess. Three meritorious mentions of these eminent Malawians highlight the important, and often unmentioned or remembered contributions they made to the 57-year-old nation of Malawi.

1.Cecilia Tamanda Kadzamira (Dedza) was not a

First Lady but she served from 1964-1994 as a civil servant. She started as a private nurse and later her role transformed to secretary, and finally in 1971 to Official Hostess. During her 31-year service, Mama C. Tamanda Kadzamira became the most important person in Malawi after Kamuzu. She was present in almost all meetings that the former President attended. In his waning years, and during his public speeches, President Banda often stated “Mama has reminded me…” clearly an indication that his memory was deteriorating. For 31 years, she had sat through his speeches at political rallies and official functions. In his old age, she could be seen ferociously writing memos to him at rallies, that the President then delivered. But Mama’s contribution can also be seen in three huge national projects. The first was the establishment of the Chitukuko Cha Amai m’Malawi (CCAM), an organization that boosted rural and urban women’s organization management and collaboration skills. It also united the women as they bandied together to raise money for national projects.

Kamuzu and Mama Tamanda Kadzamira

The second was being the overseer in the establishment of the Kamuzu Academy, which Kamuzu established in 1981. He did this to introduce classical studies and music in Malawi’s secondary school education. The school was modeled from Eton, the famous UK grammar school.

The third is her invisible role in the negotiations that Kamuzu and the Malawi Congress Party held with the opposition parties in the runup to the Referendum and the first multi-party elections in 1993 and 1994 respectively. Kamuzu could not remember many things, Kadzamira remained his memory recall and provided the institutional memory at Malawi’s critical stage in history – the hand-over of power from one-party to multi-party nation. She was to Kamuzu what Aaron and Ben Hur were to Moses.

2. Ann Muluzi (Lilongwe) was the first person to be called First Lady in Malawi. As the spouse of the first democratically-elected President, Bakili Muluzi (1994-1999), corporate Malawi women organized a tea party to meet the First Lady. Sadly, she said “not a single word!” the explanation put forward was that the former frum major of the Malawi Young Pioneer, “does not speak English.”  This annoyed many of us who had come with the hope of chatting with the First Lady, but she was disempowered. I remember stating: Let her speak in Chichewa! Cornel University-trained Taiwanese President’s wife never speaks English, she speaks in Taiwanese!”

First Lady Anne Muluzi was a humble and ever-smiling lady, who sat among ordinary people at funerals. Her major contribution was starting the Freedom Foundation Trust to raise money for poverty alleviation and HIV and AIDS.

She and Muluzi divorced after 30 years of marriage; they had two children, Austin Atupele Muluzi and Esme Muluzi-Malisita (Deceased).

3. Patricia Shanil Dzimbiri Muluzi (Balaka) was First Lady (1999 to 2004) following her husband’s divorce from his first wife, Anne. She had married Muluzi in 1987, President Muluzi and her and she converted to Islam and changed her name to Shanil Muluzi in the first of three palace weddings that the country will witness. She continued the work in Freedom Foundation Trust (FFT)that had been started by her predecessor Anne.

She raised the profile of the FFT by holding numerous fundraising events that were followed by publicized events, such as handing out blankets to vulnerable populations in the winter months.

First Lady Shanil also brought back the fashion of wearing the traditional headgear (dhuku). The dhuku had been dropped as a fashion accessory following the 1994 dawn of multi-party politics. It was seen by most women as synonymous with the Malawi Congress Party uniform, which an unwritten tradition dictated full women’s regalia to include the dhuku.

Former First lady Shanil Muluzi Dzimbiri

The couple later divorced in 2011 in a scuffle about the First Lady’s entitlement according to the Presidents Salaries and Benefits Act, which outlines entitlements/benefits for spouses. Apparently, the former President was alleged to have been pocketing her stipulated entitlement.

4. Ethel Zyauya Mutharika (Zimbabwe) was First Lady from 2004-2007. Her passing marked the second of three high-level deaths. The first being the former President Dr. Banda in 1997; the third being her husband former President Dr. Bingu wa Mutharika.

Because First Lady Ethel Mutharika, was meek, quiet, many projects undertaken by the Ethel Mutharika Foundation were not known by many Malawians until her death. The countrywide EMF ventured into projects that targeted rural women, involved corporate and urban Malawian women to establish farming and business projects in the districts of their origin.  The aim of the EMF was to help poor Malawians.

The death of First Lady Ethel Mutharika was the first to take place while in office, at the President’s directive, the body was transported through the three regions, this enabled Malawians to pay their last respects to the former First Lady.  Her body was laid in state in Lilongwe at Kamuzu Palace, then flown to Mzuzu and later to Blantyre. The former First Lady was later given a state funeral in Thyolo.

The former First Lady was said to have received cancer treatment in France, Malawi, and South Africa. However, the family, including the President had kept the battle being fought by the First Lady, a private affair.

Foreign dignitaries included Zimbabwe President, Robert Mugabe, Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete, Zambian President Rupiya Banda, Botswana and Zambian First Ladies, Mozambican Prime Minister Aires Ali, Swazi Deputy Prime Minister, former Taiwanese Prime Minister, the COMESA Secretary-General Sundiso Ndema Ngwenya, ambassadors from Nigeria, Norway and South Africa, Kenyan cabinet ministers and the Zambian-based Chewa King Gawa Undi.

She was survived by her husband and four children.

The parade of Malawi’s official hostess, first ladies, and first gentleman continue next week. Watch this space.

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