Can you introduce yourself, your background and beginnings?
I was born Rose Ziba to a father who was a teacher and businessman in the Kafukule area. The first born to my mother and the fifth born to my father since he had to remarry after his first wife died. I did my primary school at Kafukule Village School before being sent to Ekwendeni Boarding School. I did my Standard 1 to 5 and could not go to Standard 6 because a young man by the name of Edwin Chibambo, a son of a reverend of the church where I belonged and at a station I was schooling, was insisting that we get married.
We got married in 1947 and moved to Livingstonia where Edwin taught for a little while, he quit teaching and went to work as a station master with NTC Bus Service at Salima before being invited to join the government service in Zomba where my political life begun.
Carrying ghee from Kafukule to sell at Zombwe, ferrying earth when the church at Kafukule was being built.
What was your father like?
He was a good Christian but a strict one, he was industrious, influenced his already married brothers to go to school. He never let me go out and play at night and by the age of twelve I could do housework, cook and carry the meal to give to mum and dad in the field. He taught me to be honest and live an upright life.
What schools did you attend?
I went to Kafukule village school, then Ekwendeni boarding school, I finished my standard 6 at a night school in Zomba and did my adult education in England.
What made you start Politics?
Politics in my days was being done by the civil servants; Edwin was the treasurer of Zomba Branch of Nyasaland African Congress. In our marriage life, I wouldn’t eat without him being there, when federation was imposed in the early 50s, politics reached its height, my husband as not coming home in time, they were meeting and discussing and this caused me a bit of curiosity. I confronted him and he explained that they were trying to organize themselves o fight federation. I asked him if there were any women at the meetings and if I could attend the meetings and he said I could. He was the one really who influenced me more, explaining to me about politics”
So you went and joined the men right away?
“I became interested but asked myself why women did not attend such meetings? So before I went and joined the men’s group I set to organizing my fellow women. That’s how the Women’s League was born. I talked to fellow women in my locality, I was only 24 and had to talk to bigger ladies, of course I waited for the husbands to return from work before I could talk politics.
What happened next?
One day while I was coming from Zomba hospital on my way to Mapale, I saw all the chiefs from the southern region gathered at the recreation hall, they were being addressed by the Secretary for Relations Welfare who was telling the chiefs that federation was good and that they would be rich in federation. I came up and confronted chief Chikowi who I knew and he told me off saying the meeting was only for men. I became so emotional, to me selling my country was serious. From that time I started organizing women. I called a meeting at the same hall the chiefs had gathered at to discuss the issue and I was elected Chairman of the Women’s League alongside the likes of Mrs. Chibambo wife to late Qabaniso Chibambo
So how did you find yourself in Blantyre?
Authorities transferred my husband to Blantyre after they saw my family’s activity in politics but they couldn’t stop us, soon we were under Mikeka Mkandawire, Hartwell Solomon and later Manowa Chirwa, Kanyama Chiume, Masauko Chipembere who headed Blantyre’s arm of Nyasaland African Congress.
I continued influencing the men to bring forward their wives so that they also know the badness of the federation. Women’s League started in Blantyre and I chaired it. Politics grew in Nyasaland and when the Legislative Council wanted more African faces it was us in NAC that influenced chiefs to elect Chipembere and Chiume to go to the Council fearing that the white might elect puppets. We felt that we should elect some of our young men who could speak in the Legislative Council; we had to influence the chiefs especially in the Northern and Southern Regions.
Tell me about the plot to kill the whites and Indians and the coming in of Kamuzu
Kamuzu was invited because we were young and chiefs didn’t take us serious, we needed someone to convince them. He was also chosen because he was always in touch with the people we sent to protest the federation overseas. We wouldn’t have called Kamuzu if Manowa Chirwa hadn’t refused to resign from the government when we asked him; we also saw TDT Banda’s weaknesses.
Holding meetings required getting permission so we head a meeting in the bush at Soche, Kamuzu was not there because we didn’t want him arrested if they decided to arrest us. After the meeting the whites panicked and thought we had had a plot to massacre whites and Indians and so they arrested all NAC leaders, I was not arrested because I was expecting my fifth child.
You continued politics even when you were so near to giving birth?
Oh yes, I never cared, all I cared for was a free Nyasaland and since I was the only free leader, people came to me saying that I should tell them why one of our members was being kept by the police. I got on a bus to Zomba and walked straight to the Inspector Generals house and demanded that I speak to Mr. Kalua. He told me that he was being forced to be a state witness against the arrested members. He gave me a written statement which we sent to international journalists through some Scottish friends.
Talk about your life in jail
I drove to Malamulo and gave birth to my daughter the next day they arrested me and took me to Zomba Prison, I spent a year there. We slept on the floor and I shared the cell with other two Women’s League members, Vera Chirwa also briefly spent time with us there. My child cried all night and we named her Gadi because of the circumstances surrounding her birth.
You got freed, Nyasaland became free, you got the job of deputy minister what do you remember about working with all the men and Kamuzu.
I was really close with Kamuzu, we organized all his meetings, he never knew what to do when he came from abroad, I remember being chairman of the decorations committee for the Independence celebrations, I remember going to the rural areas campaigning for the first elections. I liked working with me, we would argue but it ended there and they were understanding.
What really caused the cabinet crisis?
Kamuzu surrounded himself with people from outside the Nyasaland African Congress executive and the fear of the unknown made him take us as threats, maybe he thought we would stage a coup or something, but we really just wanted to develop Malawi.
You ran to Zambia, what did you miss most about Malawi while you were in exile?
My children, since we were being harassed we sent our children back home and when we went to exile we left them behind, we tried to get them to join us but we couldn’t. I always cried when I thought about my children knowing the suffering they were going through back home.
You and your husband got arrested, who else in your family got arrested?
My first born son was arrested, my mum was arrested, my daughter was arrested
What makes your lowest moment in life?
The death of my husband and the separation from my children left a deep scar in my life, I wish I gave my children a proper education you know nobody can come to say that they can replace a mother’s love.
How did you Meet Edwin, your husband?
Edwin was qualified as a teacher but was staying at Ekwendeni School with his brother, one day he stood in for his brother’s English lesson and he gave us a dictation exercise, upon returning the books, he requested my book and got my name. He sent me a love letter through his friend, I ran at first because my friends said I shouldn’t be dealing with the reverend’s son but I went back to get the letter. You see, I never fell for any man while growing up, but the moment I saw Edwin, it was love at first sight, we courted for 5years before marrying.”
You have six children who are they, where are they and what relationship do you have with them?
The first born is Roy, the only son he lives with me, then Royce, married in Zambia then Malibase, she is in Blantyre, then Khataza she is also in Blantyre, the Gadi, a dentist married to an African American and living and practicing in New York and lastly Phumile who is living in Washington DC.
What kind of mother are you?
I am a strict mother, I always wanted the best for my children and it pains me that they never the education I wanted them to get.
Are you writing any book?
“Am not a god writer, am a good talker. I begun writing it a long time ago…am calling it ‘The Journey of My Life’”
You are a pious member of church, what themes do you like to preach about?
“I really like the theme of fellowship and love of others”
What did you miss most about Malawi while you were in exile?
“My children, I missed them so much and I used to cry when I thought of them. Nobody can say I will look after this child as the mother does. Even now I miss them because what I wanted them to be is not absolutely what they are. Separation has left a deep scar and a huge dent. ”
In your life what are your regrets, things that you should have done and didn’t do? Do you feel accomplish in your life?
“In life, my dear, you cannot accomplish everything,”
What made you return?
“Chakufwa Chihana insisted that I return after multiparty politics had been reestablished, I had always wanted to come because my mother was alive. Chakufwa told Bazuka Mhango to drive me home. He even made a big emotional rally at Ekwendeni where he presented me to the people. I always dreamt of building a house in Mzuzu and am glad that dream came true.”
Any women leaders that you like in Malawi currently?
“I don’t see anybody who can express their real feelings. Politics of today are still those of Banda era after we had left; politics of praising the leader. People don’t seem t think. All they are thinking about is what I can say to praise the leader,”
Challenges you faced as a female politician?
“I went around meeting people in my constituency and the roads were impassable those days. I used to differ with my colleagues because I let people ask me questions and tell me what they want in their area. My fellow MPs didn’t like that”
What gave you the courage to speak out in an age when women were expected to be subservient?
Because I knew and still know the truth plus I grew up under a father and mother that taught me to express myself and to be honest, it’s why Kamuzu couldn’t stand me, because I do not dabble in appeasement. Speaking your mind is not being disrespectful, Malawian tradition has that flaw and it affects women a lot, I believe that nobody should hesitate to speak what they feel.
Word of advice to Malawian women politicians
“They should be hones, they should have a commitment to work for the people and they should have love for the people they are representing, they should approach the people before going to parliament,”
Where did you get your courage to stand up to men or even speak out in a male dominated world back then?
“I had the courage because I knew the truth then and even now, if I have the truth I don’t hesitate to say what is right, what you know is the truth, whether it will be painful, you must speak it out. I grew up in the environment of being honest under the leadership of my father and my mother.”
Lowest moments in your life?
“Death of my husband and the separation from my children that I suffered.”
Edwin was buried there even after President Kaunda offered a plane to repatriate the body, authorities in Malawi refused saying he was a rebel. Even when her septuagenarian mother went to console her in Zambia, Kamuzu had her arrested and stayed in jail for two years.
“Imagine after fighting for the country to be free, they locked up my mother, that also hit me.”
How do you look at the current political situation in Malawi?
“The beginning was good but the way things are going now, I am concerned. Economically we are suffering, as it is now there is real hardship especially to us who are not working.”
I see you still drive very well, do you still cook too?
“I do cook, I love derere, and I love my Sima”
What do you do with your free time?
“I am now tired, my dear, used to rear chicken but stopped in 2010. I sometimes go to the women fellowship and we have a prison group we go to prison to give them soap, sugar, bread and something they don’t usually have. ”
Anything you want to say to the nation?
“You journalists must be strong, nobody wants to hear the truth, and you have to be strong because you are speaking for the silent. There are so many people whose chests are full but have nowhere to complain and when you write they feel relieved and hope that someone somewhere might have listened. I believe that we all have a destiny in life, if you follow it, God will always reveal things that you should do, also never deviate from doing what is right.”
On her kids not getting education
“Roy finished his standard 5 but they never accepted him because they said he was the son of rebels, one of another of my kids was chased from Mzuzu government when i tried to send her money in the post, Gadi was dropped from university in Zambia because they started trimming down the number of foreign students she struggled to get education in the states and only did dentistry after she couldn’t do surgery which was expensive, Phumile was qualified but they could not accept her, she ended doing catering”
Was arrested in 1959 and released in 1960, Gadi was born a day before going to jail.
2006: Livingstonia Synod: Political Veteran
2008: Mzimba Heritage – Recognition for her participation
2009: Bestowed by Mutharika - Grand Achiever of the Malawi Order of Achievement – Mutharika, also named a street in Mzuzu after Rose viz “Rose Chibambo Crescent”
I went to Britain to further my education; I did Adult and General Education
She returned in 1994 from exile
“We also used to feed many orphans in the Katawa area until our funding expired in December of 2011.”
was a member of Church Action Relief Development, which assists the orphans of victims of HIV/AIDS, the Christian Service Committee, the Malawi Council of Churches and the Interdenominational Support Group for Prisoners
On her Kids while she was in Exile
“After I went to exile in 1965 to of my older children had been sent to Ekwendeni to live with our relatives because we were being harassed in Zomba on daily basis that was the separation.”