- Dec 1, 2000Malawian Chiefs Are Deathmongers, Says
African Eye News Service (South
November 29, 2000
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,
"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
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
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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