In 2012, the faceless K200 note was replaced with the face of the beautiful and youthful Rose Lomathinda Chibambo. If it weren’t for the change, most of us would never have known what a historical figure she is and the important role she played in pre-colonial Malawi’s politics and independence.
Rose Chibambo, whose original name Lomathinda means snatched from the grave, was born in September 1928 in Kafukule, Mzimba. It wasn’t until 1952 in Zomba, when she began her political journey. One day, while running errands, she passed a group of chiefs at the town hall who were clearly discussing issues of community interest. Curious enough to find out what was being discussed, she was dismissed on the basis that she was a woman. Infuriated with the remarks and the lack of women representation, she rallied the support of fellow women and formed the Nyasaland African Women’s league.
During this period, the colonial government was trying to influence people to endorse the federation. The federation was met with resistance from the local people including Rose, who was also a member of the Nyasaland African Congress (NAC), the first Malawian political party in history. Rose believed that for the fight to be won, everyone including women should be involved. She was a fierce woman who did not hesitate to express her views despite being in a male-dominated environment. In 1956, she was among a group of people who were arrested for protesting against the arrest of NAC members. After her release, she continued to fight and was arrested again in 1959, just a few days after she had given birth. Due to the continuous pressure on the colonial government by the NAC members, the colonial government gave in and granted Malawi its independence.
After Malawi’s independence, Rose became the Parliamentary Secretary for Community and Social Development after winning her seat in Mzimba North during the 1964 elections. She became the first woman in the cabinet and the first female politician. However, her position was short-lived as she was forced into exile following the 1964 cabinet crisis. She returned 29 years later when Malawi became a democratic country.
Rose continued serving her community through different charities and religious organizations. She was a member of Church Action Relief Development, which assists the orphans of victims of HIV/AIDS, the Christian Service Committee, the Malawi Council of Churches and the Interdenominational Support Group for Prisoners.
Rose paved the way for female politicians and leaders in the country. She defied all odds and did not let a “mother” and “wife” title hold her back from fighting for people’s rights and a better Malawi.
Rose died on the 12th of January,2016,at the age of 86.Her story lives on.
President Bingu Wa Munthalika named a road after her “the Rose Chibambo Crescent” in the city center of Mzuzu.
There is a book that documents her life titled “Lomathinda, Rose Chibambo Speaks” by Timwa Lipenga.The book is available on Amazon.