Written by: Esnala Banda
Imagine you were in prison 2 days after giving birth to a daughter, all in the name of your country? That’s a part of Rose Chibambo’s life story.
Rose Lomathinda Chibambo is one of the founding parents of the Malawi nation, and she appears on Malawi’s 200 Kwacha banknote. She was one of the founders of the Nyasaland African Women’s League, a group of women who were very active throughout the country during the fight for independence.
During the 1959 State of Emergency Rose was jailed two days after giving birth to a daughter, and taken to Zomba prison by the Federal and Nyasaland governments, having been identified as the driving force behind the women’s branch of the NAC for nearly one year.
Rose was born in Kafukule, Mzimba District on 8 September 1928 when Nyasaland was still a protectorate under British colonial rule. She married Edwin Chibambo, formerly a teacher turned civil servant in 1947. And in 1948, when her husband was posted to the Zomba Public Works department, she completed her secondary education at night school while pregnant with her first child.
After her husband was transferred to Blantyre in 1953, Rose joined the local Nyasaland African Congress (NAC) branch at the age of 24 and was elected treasurer becoming the first woman to hold a senior position in the NAC.
Here she joined forces with Vera Chirwa to form the Nyasaland African Women’s League and it was used to help raise funds for the political movement. This was a group of courageous women who would stop at nothing to fight for their country.
This was the war cry of the NAC women in 1956 at a protest when the NAC president James Frederick Sangala and secretary T.D.T. Banda were arrested for sedition. The protest was organised by Rose and her group was arrested and fined after they travelled by bus to the High Court in Zomba.
In 1963, the then prime minister Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda appointed her deputy minister and she became the first woman minister in the new cabinet after Malawi gained independence in 1964.
She remained active in supporting women’s rights until she fell out with Dr. Hastings Banda and was forced into exile in Zambia for thirty years, returning after the restoration of democracy. Her exile came as part of the Cabinet Crisis. The crisis was sparked by a number of issues which included, differences of opinion over whether people should pay for treatment in government hospitals, Malawi’s policy on relations with Portugal and South Africa at the time, and the way in which the Ministers often felt undermined by Dr. Banda.
After her return, she was honoured by president Bingu Wa Mutharika who commissioned a road in her name in 2009. Known as Rose Chibambo Crescent, 300m road lies in the city centre of Mzuzu. Mzuzu is Malawi’s third largest city after Blantyre and Lilongwe.
Up until her death in 2016 she had settled in Mzuzu doing charity work, concentrating on HIV/Aids prevention and the results of her efforts are still in bloom today.