Harnessing feminism through Kamuzu Banda's legacy


by Chimwemwe Kamanga

Is the girl called feminism among the many babies that were thrown away together with the bath water that was Malawi's one-party system of governance?

Be that as it May, June or July, among the many self-acclaimed titles that the Ngwazi possessed and exuded during his totalitarian regime is Nkhoswe Number One.

Nkhoswe is a Chichewa (and Chitonga and Chitumbuka) word that is used to mean "a person who advocates a position in public debate or in court debate" or "a person's advocate in marriage".

The latter is more popular and more relevant to the context under discussion, although only through metaphorical transfer.

However, the Ngwazi deliberately positioned himself on the female side of the marriage equation, clearly disambiguating the other meaning of the word nkhoswe, that is, "counsellor".

By extension of that fact, the Ngwazi deliberately delimited the meaning of the other Chichewa, Chitonga and Chitumbuka word Mbumba, which normally accompanies the word Nkhoswe, to the contextualisation "a person's female lineal descendants" or "a person's female genetic descendants" rather than keeping it open to both the male and the female issue.

The mbumba formed an integral part of the Kamuzu Banda narrative
The mbumba formed an integral part of the Kamuzu Banda narrative 

Translated into English, the title Nkhoswe Number One generally means Marriage Advocate Number One.

More practically though, by virtue of the applicability of the concept Nkhoswe that the Ngwazi personally adopted and adapted, as delimited above, it is more appropriate to state that the title translates as Women's Advocate Number One, which in more contemporary terms can be translated as Feminist Number One.

By definition, feminism is the advocacy of women's rights on the grounds of the equality of the sexes. It can thus be stated unequivocally in this regard, that the Ngwazi embraced and espoused the biased position of Uncle, the 'man' that performs the position of Nkhoswe.

By virtue of the Ngwazi's title of Nkhoswe Number One, the Malawian feminine populace earned the esteemed title of Mbumba za Kamuzu, "Kamuzu's female issue".

And, that was the personification and embodiment of feminism in as far as Malawi was concerned then.

Kamuzu's brand of feminism was met with ambivalent opinion and attitude. While some people believed that the Mbumba were adequately protected by this approach to feminism, others opined this brand of feminism as oppression.

In the build up to the multiparty dispensation, the latter opinion gained more ground than the former alongside the many other by-products of the revolution.

It thus came as no surprise that the Kamuzu brand of feminism was relegated to the demonised past alongside many other social artefacts that had been innovated and entrenched in the Malawian fabric for the entire autocratic dispensation.

Questions abound as to whether indeed or not this brand of feminism was anomalous.

Questions abound as to whether or not this brand of feminism could not have been harnessed within the confines of democracy to produce a more democratic kind of contemporary feminism.

Questions abound as to whether or not democracy has simply taken advantage of the anger against autocracy to perpetrate and perpetuate antifeminism through acts that are dressed like feminism. Questions abound.