Goodbye iconic old lady


Good people, it is sorrowful ‘the old lady’ is gone.

Old lady is what former exile Archibald Kapote Mwakasungula called the country’s first female minister Rose Chibambo who died aged 87 on Monday.

This was no slight of the fearless freedom whom many have eulogised as an iconic woman, an early campaigner for gender equality and women’s empowerment as well as a principled politician.

There was an immensity of fondness when I last encountered Mwakasungula together with the deceased woman who accepted to pursue her dream of free Malawi wholeheartedly to the extent of being exiled by both British colonial rulers and founding president Kamuzu Banda. It was a sunny November afternoon in 2014.

The venue was Karonga Museum, the home of the Malawisaurus which makes the country the cradle of humanity. The occasion was the unveiling of the high-powered Living Legends exhibitions which brings together audio and video conversation with 20 unsung heroes.

There she was, one of them, an old lady in what is loosely considered a national wear, struggling to straighten her leg as she alighted from a vehicle having travelled about 267 kilometres from Mzuzu to the shoreline district.

Actually, she needed the support of retired professor David Rubadiri and his wife as they made way for an uncompleted stage in an amphitheatre, still under construction,where they were going to receive her final grandest honour before she would bow out of this life early this week.

Obviously, she was an old woman—an octogenarian. However, it was her experience, patriotism and political activism that was riveting and attention-grabbing through and through if the audience’s silence and attention was anything.

There she was—along with Rubadiri’s spouse, narrating her life story and dishing out limitless lessons on everything to do when it comes to nation-building taking questions from erudite literature scholar Timwa Lipenga.

In her recollections blared a voice of a patriot who could not stand Malawians being treated like second-class citizens in their country.

People have spoken of her numerous agenda-setting role a million times since her death and it is stunning they would say as much if he was here.

But one question erupted in the audience that came back to life this week: “Why do the legendary achievers keep dying without writing down their stories?”

This was the question theatre critic Dr Mufunanji Magalasi posed during the Living Legends gala in Karonga. There they were, 20 adults, literate, fluent in English, endowed with exciting experiences and not shy to tell their untold stories from within and beyond the borders.

Not inking their stories was not just contempt of their teachers and lifelong struggles.

Not to immortalising our stories has given room to selfish politicians to falsify national history as they please.

This is the reason Africans are at the mercy of distorted stories churned out by Western authors who mistakenly perceived the continent as a bastion of war, hunger and diseases.

By not writing our stories, praiseworthy achievers have deprived the country of eventful chapters of the history of the nation.

Of course, the press, the first draft of history, has gifted us snippets of the lost years highly embellished and downplayed by oral storytellers, including politicians.

I am tempted to blame Rose Chibambo and other fallen heroes for deceiving us that she was always with us when she was actually marching out of this mortal life.

But it is only when writers learn to write stories that matter will the country stop crying as we have done every time we gather to bury our heroes the size of Chibambo,Machipisa, Willy Chokani, Aleke Banda and many more. n


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