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Zambian perspective on Blantyre

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  • Christine Chumbler
    Malawians are humble, meek, friendly The Times of Zambia (Lusaka) July 6, 1999 By Shapi Shacinda Lusaka - Traversing Blantyre s landscape and its nearby twin
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 6, 1999
      Malawians are humble, meek, friendly

      The Times of Zambia (Lusaka)
      July 6, 1999
      By Shapi Shacinda

      Lusaka - Traversing Blantyre's landscape and its nearby 'twin' city of Limbe offers
      the first-time visitor to Malawi, a breath-taking panoramic view of that country's
      commercial capital. Inhabitants of Blanytre, whose weather is terribly cold this
      time of the year, have overcome what would otherwise be a natural hitch.

      They have erected wonderful pan-bricked houses at the foothills, and in the
      middle of the hills. "This is beautiful, I wish we could do the same to our hilly
      towns Chipata, Kafue and others," remarked a fellow Zambian scribe travelling
      with me to last week's inauguration of Dr Bakili Muluzi's second term as
      Malawian president in Blantyre.

      The Malawian commercial capital, named after David Livingstone's Scottish city,
      is a beautiful city. Though, of course, smaller than Lusaka. Blantyre resembles,
      in Southern Africa, the tiny Kingdom, Swaziland's capital, Mbabane.

      Building a house is an expensive undertaking for the average Malawian, but the
      costs have been made somewhat affordable by the use of pan bricks, moulded
      out of red soil. The local authorities have equally done good home work by
      ensuring houses are built according to specifications. A visitor will notice very few
      ramshackles in and around Blantyre. . . I did not go round the whole town

      One striking feature in Blantyre, a common phenomenon each time there was a
      national event, is the unwavering dancing queens: these are old women,
      previously known as 'mbumba za Kamuzu.' The never tiring women, and in their
      hundreds dancing on the United Democratic Front (UDF) of President Bakili
      Muluzi ticket amazes many a visitor with their strong resolve in dancing. "These
      women like dancing.

      Some used to dance at the orders of Kamuzu Banda (late dictator defeated by Dr
      Muluzi in the first multiparty elections of 1994 ). When governments changed
      hands, they were told to stop dancing but they refused, stating they are used to

      "The President (Dr Muluzi) told them he was not going to subject women to
      dancing for him but they seem to have convinced him to continue with their act.
      They told him they were doing it voluntarily now unlike in the past when Kamuzu
      used to force them," commented Aubrey Mchulu a journalist at The Nation
      newspaper in Blantyre. The women wriggled their waists at Chileka airport each
      time a head of state or governement representative touched down to witness the
      swearing-in ceremony of Dr Muluzi on June 21.

      They plied their trade at Chichiri Stadium on the great and merry- making
      occasion attended by President Chiluba, much to the delight of foreign
      dignitaries. The women seemingly mastered the songs and lyrics of the TOK
      jazz band of Tanzania which entertained guests to solidarity tunes for Dr Muluzi
      and his government.

      I stayed away from discoteques during my three nights in Blantyre but
      colleagues in the entourage spoke glowingly of the 'fast' life the city offers. It is
      just like Lusaka, with a lot of prostitutes.

      The nearest I came to the real night life of Blantyre was when two teenage girls,
      probably aged between 15 and 17 vainly stopped the foreign affairs minibus we
      were driven around at about 20:00hrs. . . you do not need to be told these girls
      were 'hookers.' Prostitution previously outlawed, I came to learn was now rife in
      democratic Malawi. A receptionist at a Lodge I was spending my nights told me
      poverty had resulted in the loss of social morals.

      "Malawi has now changed," intoned Emmanuel Bodole a receptionist at
      Namiwawa Lodge. "I am sure you have noticed women now wear trousers, a
      thing nobody could dream of during the previous regime.

      This democracy is properly understood by some women, but others dress
      provocatively in the name of freedom." It is freedom everywhere. Street vending
      especially in Limbe is a common feature.

      Vehicles have to hoot for hawkers to give way as they trade even on roads in
      some streets of Limbe. There is what one would refer to as 'organised' vending in
      Blantyre, similar to the 'order' which was on Cairo road during the reign of the
      people from the 'President's office'. I was struck with the faithfulness and humility
      of Malawians.

      It reminded me of the old Zambia, a Zambia so full of promise, no thefts, people
      respectful et cetera. My small recorder I use for interviews slid off my pocket as I
      relaxed on a lounge seat in the Ryles Hotel lobby.

      I realised my recorder was missing when I went to Limbe with colleagues. After
      retracing my movements to only three places, among them a Bureau De Change
      and the hotel, the following morning I went to present my problem to a female
      receptionist at Ryles hotel.

      She told me to wait for a few minutes as she attended to another guest. Within
      five minutes she was pulling my recorder from a drawer.

      I was so overwhelmed that I deeped into my pocket to present a token of
      appreciation to her and another male receptionist. It reminded me of how
      trustworthy some people in certain parts of this world are. But the other side of
      life evokes the fact that you need a lot of Malwian kwacha as a foreigner to

      A colleague at my work place tells me things used to be cheap in Malawi, but
      this is no longer the case. Venturing into shops in the first class trading area of
      Blantyre confirmed this fact. For instnce Nike T-shirts costing K25,000 in Lusaka
      were pegged at prices twice as much in Blantyre.

      This also goes for hotel accommodation. A superior room (single) goes for $130
      in Blantyre something that would cover for a double room with a small addition for
      a room at hotels of similar standards in Zambia.

      A number of us who wanted to change the kwacha into foreign currencies
      suffered a set back when a bank tailer at the National Bank of Malawi at the
      airport refused to accept local currency from us. "We do not have enough money
      to do the rounds," said the tailer apologetically.

      "But of what use will this currency be to us in Zambia if you the owners of the
      money cannot accept it. This is very amazing," one of my colleagues intoned.

      It took more than half an hour to convince the tailer to give us South African rand,
      Deutch Marks and US dollars she earlier claimed not to have. "It is a question of
      having a poor economy," said another collegue who added he had been to many
      African countries but this was the first time he was experiencing such an
      incident. Whether the weak Malawian kwacha caused initial refusal to exchange
      it with US dollars amazed me.

      Malawians though are a friendly people. Their humility cannot be faulted.

      Their patience is unwavering. But there is an element of doing things slowly too.

      It took us 12 hours to convince hotel staff at the Mount Soche Hotel to change
      our travellers cheques into Malawi kwacha. Reason! There was not enough
      Malawi kwacha at any given time we attempted to obtain it. "Wait patiently sir,"
      the receptionists would say each time we enquired whether things would work

      But one thing visible is the new democratic culture prevailing in Malawi. People
      are now free to discuss politics and even differ seriously with their leaders.

      The recent elections in which Dr Muluzi narrowly defeated his closest rival
      Gwanda Chakuamba in the presidential race was a pointer to this. However, the
      mayhem that followed the elections, in which the North a stronghold for
      Chakuamba's alliance of the Malawi Congress Party/Aford rose against
      Southerners threatened to divide the country on regional lines.

      The Moslems and some tribes such as Dr Muluzi's Yao, Lomwe, Sena have
      been targets of violent attacks by their Ngoni, Tumbuka, Ngonde, Tonga brothers
      and sisters. Dr Muluzi is a Moslem and Yao speaking.

      Every Moslem has become an enemy of the Chakuamba alliance. Ten mosques
      were razed, homes looted as people fled to the hills for safety in the aftermath of
      the disputed poll results.

      African opposition parties, counselled president Chiluba on arrival at Chileka
      airport for Muluzi's inauguration, should learn to accept election results if
      democracy is to be nurtured on the continent. Mr. Chiluba said there was a sad
      and growing trend of disputing election results which should be curtailed.

      Dr Muluzi when taking oath of office also attacked those branding his government
      illegitimate, warning he would crush any upheavals when some sections of the
      opposition threatened to take up arms. "Malawi, the warm heart of Africa" is the
      tourism message you get in brochures.

      Indeed it is a warm, and friendly tiny country worth a visit.

      Publication Date: July 3, 1999
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