Malawi's iron lady Joyce Banda

By // General | Malawi's iron lady Joyce Banda
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AFP | DAILY NATION Joyce Banda holds a ceremonial sword at her inauguration on April 7, 2012 as Malawi’s new president, becoming its first female leader in a ceremony in the capital Lilongwe. Joyce Banda was on Saturday sworn in as Malawi’s first woman president and told her supporters there was “no room for revenge” after the divisive Bingu wa Mutharika died in office.  

By Rex Chikoko
Posted  Thursday, April 12  2012 at  18:00

The spat between Callista Mutharika, the wife of the departed Malawi President Bingu Mutharika, and his successor, Joyce Banda was a pointer of things to come.

Blinded by proximity to power and its trappings, the former First Lady derided Mrs Banda as a “mandasi” (mandazi in East Africa) woman of no consequence.

As vice-president, Banda had differed with President Mutharika when it became clear that he was grooming his brother, James Mutharika, to succeed him. Banda was fired from the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) but she founded her own party and remained vice-president, thanks to the constitution.

“You distribute little money here and there for village women to sell mandasi and you think you can become president?” Callista Mutharika had harangued the future president.

“I am a mandasi woman, and I am a supporter of all mandasi women, all market women in Malawi, and all tomato women in the country. That is my constituency.”

The mandasi solidarity paid off. Last week, Banda wielded the symbolic sword of power and was sworn in as Malawi’s fourth president and the country’s first female one.

In a printed floral dress with matching headgear and a grey wrapper across her right shoulder, Joyce Hilda Mtila Banda walked to the podium in the new Parliament building in Lilongwe and took the oath that changed Malawi’s history forever as foe and friend watched.

The daughter of Gray John Stewart Mtila, a former policeman, composer, and famous drum major of the police brass band, Banda became the second female president in Africa.

Born on 12 April, 1950, President Banda’s ascendancy to greatness was predetermined at an early age by circumstances that ushered her into an adventurous life that later defined her persona.

As her father was tossed from one police station to another because of the nature of his job, his daughter had the opportunity to travel the length and breadth of Malawi.

The young Yao girl would appreciate the various ways of life of the major communities in Malawi such as the Chewa, Tumbuka, Mang’anja, Tonga, Ngonde, Lhomwe, and Sena.

Unlike her predecessor, Bingu wa Mutharika, who was largely viewed as aloof, Banda is regarded as a “woman of the people”. Mutharika died on Thursday, 5 March.

By her own admission, the president’s home is neither Malindi in Mangochi District, where her father came from, nor Domasi in Zomba District, where her mother, Edith Chimwele, hailed. It is also not Nkhata Bay District, the home of her husband, retired Chief Justice Richard Banda.

“I belong everywhere,” she has told many political rallies.

The message is that she belongs everywhere she lived with her father and siblings McArthur, Festa, Cecilia, and Anjumile.

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