Coming from a family where she was the only girl with three brothers, Mary Kachale says her brothers always treated her as an equal, often challenging her to be more than ordinary.
For that reason, she never felt she was any less than a boy or a man, which encouraged her not shy away from participating in male-dominated fields. It is no wonder she became the first female Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) in the country.
“With diligence and professional application, one can overcome the skepticism arising from gender stereotypes against women or the youthful,” she says.
She admits it is by the grace of God to be in that position.
“I recall working at Nantipwiri Centre in Bvumbwe with Legal Aid Department staff undertaking some mundane ‘archiving processes’ where we were literally reading through some old case files in our custody and determining how to dispose of them in readiness for the transition from Legal Aid Department to the Legal Aid Bureau.
“Then I got a call from Honourable Samuel Tembenu, the Minister of Justice informing me of the intended presidential appointment as DPP. It was quite a pleasant surprise, quite a surreal moment to say the truth!” she concedes.
Having served in the DPP’s office for most of her career, Kachale says she was quite aware it is a very demanding office. Even so, the mother of three says her professional inclination has always been towards using the law to attain justice for the victimised and marginalised in society.
“When in 2013 I was assigned to head the Legal Aid Department, it appeared as if my core professional interest had been buried. Yet, that brief spell in a senior management role helped prepare me for the overwhelming task that awaited me upon being made the DPP,” she explains.
Being the DPP means that Kachale is constitutionally responsible for all criminal prosecutions across the country. The majority of this work is done by prosecutors appointed within the Malawi Police Service working in nearly 200 magistrate courts across the country and no criminal prosecutions can commence without the consent of the DPP.
“Given the diversity and multiplicity of institutions handling various types of crimes requires one to be objective and prompt in processing applications for consent. Professionally, one also has to lead in the prosecution of certain key cases in court.
“So, the range of responsibilities includes administering the office of DPP [and its regional offices in the south and north] as well as reading and analysing cases to determine readiness for trial; and providing legal opinions to other law enforcement agencies,” she states.
As a matter of accountability, the DPP reports to the Legal Affairs Committee of Parliament for all decisions and actions taken.
“That aspect of the job can be quite taxing as one needs to provide cogent reasons for all decisions and actions taken. So, there is a lot of reading, writing and providing strategic leadership in a team of lawyers and other colleagues,” she says.
The challenges of this job are quite many, she says, quickly adding that law enforcement is never an easy task.
“One has to be prepared to be misunderstood when committed to enforcing the rules in a context where the prevailing culture is not so adherent,” she says.
In addition, she says the volume of work itself can seem overwhelming, given the perennial challenge of inadequate resources in public service.
“Sometimes it can be frustrating to see your work as a prosecutor compromised due to inadequate work at the investigations level [investigations literally provide you with the tools for successful prosecutions]. In other contexts, one might wish for more human resources to simply share the burden more equitably; yet, one has to learn to operate within the limitations imposed by the socio-economic reality. Through it all, one has to acknowledge the amazing grace of God that yields results in spite of your personal inadequacies and contextual limitations,” says Kachale.
Born Mary Phikiso in November 1977 in Dedza, she worked hard through primary and secondary schools and was selected to Chancellor College where she pursued a law degree, graduating in 2001. In 2009, she received a Master’s Degree in Law (Public International Law) from University College London (UCL).
Kachale has worked in the Ministry of Justice for almost all of her professional career, apart from a short stint on secondment as a junior counsel at the Advisory Centre for World Trade Organisation (WTO) Law in Geneva, Switzerland between September 2007 and June 2008.
She was the chief Legal Aid advocate between March 2013 and July 2014 [just prior to the transition of the former Legal Aid Department into the current Legal Aid Bureau] before becoming the DPP in July 2014.
Kachale married her college sweetheart Justice Dr. Chifundo Kachale in 2002 and together they have three children. She notes that having a healthy family life is crucial to handling the pressure that comes from her work; and as such, she is grateful to have a supportive spouse and understanding children.
“However, I have learnt not to take their understanding for granted. So, I always plan regular time together with my family. I try to have dinner with them every day, just to stay close and I do homework with my children whenever I can. We always strive to spend weekends together doing fun stuff and always attending church together on Sundays.
“These regular interactions help me keep my feet on the ground so to speak. Everything boils down to planning and managing your time responsibly; you cannot sacrifice your family for professional success, it will leave you empty,” she advises.
Advising younger girls, Kachale points out that everyone needs to discover their true identity in God.
“Every girl is wonderfully and fearfully made by the Almighty. You need that understanding to define your true value; do not look to the opposite sex for affirmation and fulfillment [kulibe manda a mbeta]”.
She continues: “Recognise that you have a unique value to add to your family, your school and your community, but unless you can discover what that value is, you will waste your life in senseless living. Life has a purpose greater than fashion and fun, although these too have their place. If you are in school, work hard, if you are working, let your performance and not your sexuality pave the way for your success,” she says.
In conclusion, the DPP says she believes that Malawians are some of the most intelligent people on earth, but the tendency to cover up for those who are actually known to be doing wrong keeps the country as the poorest in the world.
“We generally do not like to hold people accountable and responsible for their actions and sadly, this retards our capacity for real socio-economic development. Shielding such people is like punching holes in a bucket you intend to carry water in-no matter how much water you put, it will all leak. If we truly love Malawi, let us rise up and take our stand to ensure that justice prevails at all levels of society,” she counsels.