Bernadettar Kwimbira-Mzika is a youthful woman who has achieved a lot as an international referee. She was recently named personality and referee of the year at the inaugural Sports Gala Awards in the country.
“I am so happy and thankful to God for being the first person to win the Sports Personality of the Year Award for the first ever Sports Gala Awards in Malawi and of course the best Referee Award. And the fact that this is only March of 2018, the two awards I got at the National Sports Awards were my second and third for this year, [the first one being the Referee of the year award for 2017 TNM Super League season], I give Glory and Honour to God for making it happen again and again,” she says.
It keeps coming for her because the referee has many accolades and successes to her name dating back to a number of years.
Bernadettar officiated at African Women Cup of Nations four times in a row; from South Africa in 2010 to Equatorial Guinea in 2012; and then Namibia and Cameroon in 2014 and 2016 respectively.
In 2013 she was best referee at the Confederation Africaine de Football (CAF) Elite A course, beating both men and women.
She was one of the only three match officials from Africa for the Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing, China in August 2014 and made history in both CAF and Fédération Internationale de Football Association (Fifa) books as the first trio from Africa to officiate a final match at a FIFA tournament.
As the only Malawian Referee in both CAF Elite A and FIFA Elite A band of referees, Bernadettar has attended eight CAF Elite A Referees Course from 2010 to date.
Between June and July 2015, she was in Canada for the Fifa Women’s World Cup where just like in China, history was made when they were the first trio from Africa to officiate in the knockout stages at a World Cup.
“By the grace of God we were appointed for a third place match that Africa now has a World Cup Medal not from a team, but from women referees [Gladys Lengwe and Bernadettar Kwimbira-Mzika from Zambia and Malawi respectively],” she says.
Back home, she has officiated more than 70 matches in the super league, including 12 Blantyre derbies. She has also officiated a lot of cup matches, including a semi-final match of 2014 Presidential Cup; 2015 Carlsberg Cup Final; 2017 semi-final matches; the Airtel top eight final; and the 2017 Carlsberg Cup Final.
Given the exploits in her line of work, there must be a secret behind all of it.
“I would say the secret behind my success is hard work and determination. Even if somebody could tell me that I am lazy, I would not buy it because I know I work hard. Fifa wants me to train six times a week and I do. And not just training because they want me to do so, No! It is for a purpose. I have achieved a lot for the past three years and repeating the same path for the next two years, God willing. That is what I am working for,” she explains.
Her passion for football can be traced back to her secondary school days doing athletics. She was an athlete for the then famous Sobo Athletics Club competing in 100 and 200 metre races. She also played in the school’s netball team.
In the year 2000 Bernadettar joined the Malawi Defense Force (MDF) as one of the very first female soldiers and continued with athletics. While in the army she also had a passion for football.
“During weekends, if not at Civo Stadium, then I was either at Silver Stadium or Nankhaka to watch a football match. In 2002, I approached Youngson Chilinda who was then a Fifa referee and expressed my ambitions. The same year, the Football Association of Malawi (FAM) organised a basic referee’s course in Kasungu. I passed and was awarded a Grade three certificate, and that is how it all started for me,” explains the mother of two boys.
She emphasises that nothing comes easy and that success is not just about being lucky, but hard work, commitment, humility and self-control.
Bernadettar always ensures that she has up to date knowledge of the laws of the game and she interprets and applies them accordingly on the field of play.
To maintain her fitness and be able to pass FIFA fitness test, Bernadettar trains six times a week which is also a requirement for Fifa Elite A Referees Worldwide.
“I also feel that you certainly need to have interests outside of the game, where you have the chance to relax and to mentally switch off. So, after every three months, I take a break from football just to relax and refresh,” she says.
She encourages young girls to have a passion for what they would want to do in life; put all their effort on it and work extra hard to achieve it.
“There is nothing like male-dominated field. What men can do, we women can do it equally and surpass them,” she points out.
To the up and coming women referees she says: “No one officiates for life. Bernadettar Kwimbira-Mzika will not be there for Malawi forever. Soon, I will hang my boots and join the Referees’ Assessors wagon. Work hard girls, nothing is impossible. I am just like anybody else, so why not you? You can also do it”.
She continues: “Read your laws of the game regularly, interpret, apply them accordingly on the field of play and always keep fit. Look at male referees as fellow women, colleagues in arms and concentrate on what you are in refereeing field for. Only hard work, dedication, humility and discipline can take you to the top and nothing else. And always remember to put God first in everything. I will be the happiest person to see another Malawian referee [male or female] in Fifa Elite A or CAF Elite A”.
Bernadettar was born on September 11, 1981 in Blantyre. The third born in a family of four children, she comes from Fundi Village, Traditional Authority (T/A) Kilupula in Karonga. Her father passed away in 1989 when she was seven and she has grown up with a single parent.
The youthful woman referee holds an advanced diploma in secretarial and administration from the Staff Development Institute. In 2013, she enrolled for a Bachelor of Business Administration with University of South Africa (Unisa), but later withdrew.
“In my second year of study, I had a lot of engagements with Fifa due to my 2015 Canada Fifa Women’s World Cup appointment. I absolutely had no time for my books and assignments. When I weighed the two, I sacrificed my school for the World Cup,” says the referee who is married to Derick Mzika since 2005.