Celebrating A Feminist Icon And Mentor
The women's movement in sub-sahara Africa, was shaped by a significant number of women from diverse backgrounds. These women who were active during the colonial and post-colonial era, fought tirelessly against repression by the colonial administration as well as sexism that was rife after independence in their countries. They mobilised other women to fight the entrenched patriarchy that existed after independence (and continues to this day), aimed at keeping women out of politics and decision making as the traditional spheres of power for women slowly disappeared.
Among these strong women was Rose Chibambo. She was a force to be reckoned with. Prior to independence, at the age of only 24, Rose Chibambo galvanized women, some much older than her to form "the women's league". This was in the 1950's, at a time when there were no inclusive strategies in place (for women) with regards to the liberation movement in Malawi. This remarkable woman was curious as to why women were not part of the process. There is no doubt that her leadership qualities and strong conviction impressed many people.
Mama Rose Chibambo later served as the first female minister in Malawi under the administration of President Kamuzu Banda, when Malawi gained independence in 1964. During her time as a minister in the Banda administration, a cabinet crisis occurred which forced her to go into exile. She fled to Zambia where she lived for 30 years. It was during her time in Zambia that she became a family friend and later work colleague, seeing us grow to become adults.
Looking back to those early childhood days, the historical significance of what this remarkable woman stood for did not really hit home. As children we simply saw her as kind old aunty Rose, who always had a gift or two each time she saw us. Talk of her being the first female minister in Malawi, did not phase us as is usually the case with most children when they interact with a prominent individual. It was only years later that it finally dawned on us that this amazing woman who exuded quiet confidence, dignity and grace, who seemed like an ordinary woman, had achieved extra-ordinary things.
Despite the challenges she had been through which included spending time in prison with her youngest daughter for challenging the powers that be and eventually being separated from some of her children for 30 years, she retained her composure. Knowing a courageous person of her stature who contributed tremendously to the women's movement on the African continent was a privilege. She moved back to Malawi in the 1990's after the restoration of democracy in the country and has been involved in charitable work within her community over the years.
It was a pleasant surprise to learn a few months ago that the 200 Malawian Kwacha bank note was embossed with Rose Chibambo's face. Memories of this remarkable woman during her exile in Zambia are cherished by many of us who got to know her and spent time with her. We learnt valuable lessons from her on the importance of resilience, perseverance persistence and quiet dignity.