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  • Christine Chumbler
    Dec 1, 2000
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      Malawian Chiefs Are Deathmongers, Says
      First Lady

      African Eye News Service (South
      November 29, 2000

      Brian Ligomeka

      Malawi's First Lady has accused chiefs who promote
      customs like initiation and polygamy of being deathmongers,
      saying the practises help fuel the spread of HIV/Aids.

      Shanil Muluzi is calling for the immediate end of all traditions
      that help spread the disease, but many chiefs are afraid the
      move will mean the end of their culture.

      "A tribe without its own culture is lost it is not only lost but
      dead," says a village headman from southern Malawi,
      Headman Kamoto.

      "The outcome of divorcing one's culture is that you are forced
      to adopt an alien culture, which results in the whole tribe
      losing its dignity, identity, history, language and direction. I
      cannot allow that to happen in my village," he explains.

      Mrs. Muluzi says it is counterproductive to defend cultural
      practices that will kill those initially meant to benefit from

      "The AIDS epidemic should make us realise that the
      prevention of death is much more important that preserving
      culture," she said

      "A culture that puts people at the risk of death is not useful to
      people who practice it."

      Traditions that she wants banned include initiation
      ceremonies where boys are circumcised and girls mutilated
      with a single sharp instrument dipped in herbal concoctions.

      Traditional leaders insist that their subjects be initiated to
      pass from youth into and adulthood.

      Initiates are taught their roles in society, marriage issues and
      funeral rites and are encouraged to start having sex because
      they are now adults.

      George Kampango, a National Aids Control Programme
      (NACP) says initiation ceremonies focus too much on sex.

      "There is nothing that youths learn from such ceremonies
      apart from how to involve themselves in sexual
      promiscuousness," he says.

      "Everything talked about or done at such ceremonies is in
      connection with sexual activity."

      Another cultural practice fuelling the spread of HIV is the
      'Sit-In-Spouse' custom where elders instruct an impotent
      man's younger brother to secretly have sex with his
      sister-in-law so that the couple can have children.

      Mrs. Muluzi says the practise violates human rights.

      "Marriage is not about having children. It is about the love
      between two people, so why force your brother or sister to
      have sex with your loved one," she asks.

      The practise of 'Spouse Inheritance' is also under threat. It
      allows a dead man's younger brother or any other relative to
      marry the widow.

      Health workers are trying hard to end the misconception that
      men always need to have sex and that it is therefore
      acceptable for them to have more than one sexual partner.

      A Health Ministry survey indicates that 50 percent of those
      infected with HIV between 1997 and 1999 were married

      NACP statistics show that twice as many Malawian girls
      between 12 and 29 have HIV than boys of the same age.

      All together, 13 percent of sexually active Malawians are HIV

      Statistics from Banja La Mtsogolo (BLM) a sexual health
      NGO, says sexually transmitted diseases are also rising.
      BLM treated 88 598 STD cases in 1999, compared to 65
      000 in 1998 and 27 515 in 1997.


      Nurses Threaten To Strike Over Housing

      African Eye News Service (South
      November 30, 2000

      Brian Ligomeka

      Nurses in Malawi are threatening to down tools over
      Christmas unless the government includes them in a new
      housing scheme for public workers.

      Despite the close partnership between doctors and nurses in
      providing health care, the government had excluded nurses
      from the essential services providers' list, said Georgina
      Chinula, president of the Nurses' Association of Malawi.

      "I am totally surprised that, despite the crucial role we play in
      the health care system, the government has decided to
      discriminate against us and use double standards," Chinula

      The new housing scheme has embroiled the government in
      controversy ever since it was introduced last month, with the
      Malawi Human Rights Commission charging that it is
      discriminatory and abusive of workers' rights under the

      Chinula said while the scheme was being offered to doctors,
      judges, members of the army, police and immigration
      officers, nurses were exluded.

      Nurses were regularly expected to cancel their annual leave
      because their services were regarded as essential, and now
      they felt betrayed by the government.

      "If the government fails to give nurses the same treatment as
      other essential services providers, all of them will go on
      holiday," she said.

      The association has sent a letter to President Bakili Muluzi,
      asking for his immediate intervention.

      Health secretary Richard Pendame said this week nurses
      had been wrongly classified as industrial workers. He said
      although the health ministry understood the nurses'
      frustrations, it could not resolve the matter on its own as the
      instructions had come from the Human Resources
      Management division.

      The Human Rights Commission's chief legal officer, Jarvis
      Matiya, explained that the new housing scheme contravened
      the Malawi Constitution, which stipulates that every person is
      entitled to fair wages and equal remuneration for work of
      equal value without any distinction of any kind.

      The commission has asked the High Court of Malawi for a
      judicial review of the scheme, on the basis that civil servants
      in the same grades and doing the same jobs now get
      different housing allowances.

      The deputy registrar of the High Court, Charles Mkandawire,
      confirmed this week that the commission had sued the
      attorney general, and said a date for the hearing would be
      set next week.
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