Monday, 23 August 2010
With a population of 624,445 people (2008 Population and Housing Census), 56 per cent of which are young people under 19, the population of Dedza district is expected to reach 1 million in 15 years.
Kapalamula Primary School is a typical Malawian institution of education with its six classroom blocks overlooking a dusty playground and located on the outskirts of Dedza town.
Formerly a refugee camp, the school was opened in 1994 as a junior primary school but due to the rapid population growth around the area, classes were increased from Standard 4 to Standard 7.
Today, the school has 1,328 pupils and six classrooms catering for 12 classes. It goes without saying that while six classes are being conducted inside the classrooms, six others are outside, learning under trees or following the shadow of the classroom blocks to escape the heat.
According to headteacher Florence Kapatuka Donda, the Parents Teacher Association has K184,300 in its fund to construct another school block of two classes.
“If the parents fail, the Std 7 pupils will be transferred and there is nowhere for them to go. The enrollment at Dedza Government Primary School is already 2,000 and they have 16 classes. The parents are doing their best but they can no longer manage,” she says.
The office block was built with funding from a donor in Norway while a UK donor has promised to provide iron sheets for the new classroom block, which is yet to be built because the PTA fund is not adequate.
Kapalamula School also suffers under the perennial shortage of teachers, teaching and learning materials and poor sanitation.
The enrollment of pupils does not match the number toilets. There are four toilets each for girls and boys which are not in good condition due to the high number of children at the school.
Because Kapalamula is registered as a junior primary school, the District Education Management (DEM) office gave them 10 textbook each for subjects like Agricuture, English and Geography. That’s 10 books for 99 learners in Std 7.
Desks are not available in the Std 6 and 7 and only because they came with the school blocks built with funding from the European Union. It was not for EU, all pupils at Kapalamula would be learning sitting on the cold floor.
There is no headteacher’s house at the school so when a parent needs a transfer letter urgently, Donda says if lucky, he will meet her on the way from the maize mill.
To hear the story of Kapalamula, you would think it is a private school run by trustees with no management experience. Why should parents pay K100 every term towards the construction of school blocks when it is the responsibility of government to provide education to its people?
However, Donda says support from government comes in the form of exercise books, some textbooks and salaries for teachers.
The school has no school feeding programme, Donda says, despite that most of its pupils come from poor households from across the Mozambican border but malnutrition of children aged less than five years is at 42 per cent.
Due to the high population and poverty in the area surrounding the school, parents prefer to send their children to primary school when they are too young.
In the Kapalamula headteacher’s view, mothers around the are have too many children and like to offload them to overworked teachers because they can’t look after them.
“We have children as young as 4 years coming to start Std 1 because the mother has too many children at home that she can’t manage to care for them all,” she states in her wisdom.
According to Malawi Education Survey of 2007, the pupil teacher ratio in Dedza is 89:1 when it should be 60:1; there are 130 pupils to one pit latrine when it should 30:1 and there are 111 pupils to one class when it should 60:1.
According to the 2008 Population and Housing Census (PHC) Dedza has a very young population, 349, 861 of the total population of 624,445 people in the district are aged below 19.
Because of the such a high population of young people, at 57 per cent nationally, and going by the current total fertility rate of 6.3, a scenario by the RAPID, a document which aims to raise awareness on the impact of high population on development, puts the population of Malawi at 40 million by 2040.
Director of planning at Dedza District Council Robert Kanyesi, 137,763 people were born in Dedza between 1998 and 2008, representing a growth rate of 28.3 per cent.
The implication has been that there are now more consumers but less producers of goods and services putting a strain on the few agriculture, health and education resources.
“This district cannot take a population high than it is now. Already we have few qualified teachers, we have inadequate or inferior education infrastructure and there is poor retention of girls in schools,” he said.
Primary gross enrollment in Dedza district is at 111 per cent but only 86 per cent are still in school because by the time pupils reach Std 8, half the enrollment drops, especially among girls.
“Due to the high population of this district, there is shortage of qualified primary school teachers but also poor participation of schools committees and their communities in the school management,” he says.
While the Dedza district executive committee agrees that the population of Dedza is too high compared to the resources available, they can’t seem to agree on the solutions.
T/A Kachere testifies that if the population continues to grow at the current pace in Dedza, in future development of the district will stagnate because land conflicts will be rife.
“Nobody will be willing to give away their land for development purposes. If people are already fighting over small pieces of land, what will happen in future?” the chief wonders.
Senior Chief Kachindamoto says people in rural areas have to understand the benefits of having smaller families because the problems being experienced now will only worsen.
She says it should be up to traditional leaders to understand the impact of high population growth on food availability, provision of education and access to health.
“It is clear that if we are having such problems now, they will only become worse in future. We need to explain to our subjects where we are going wrong,” she says.
Thursday, 3 June 2010
At 5 am on Tuesdays and Thursdays, Cledonia Nkhonyo and her four
children wake up to the sound of the bell from the parish church
signaling to all villagers in Group Village Headman Kachule in Dedza
to go to work in their fields.
Besides her own eight acres in which she cultivated maize and beans,
on other days, Nkhonyo also works in the five acre community maize
garden and the village demonstration garden where farmers in the
village learn modern farming methods and replicate them in their own.
Six years ago, Nkhonyo’s household used to experience hunger after
every harvest season. Then, all her 10 children were living at home
and they depended on two acres of land for farming.
Last farming season, she experimented with applying manure and
fertilizer in her maize fields. In the end she harvested 300 bags from
the increased acreage which she has been selling during this lean
period at K4,500.
“I also used some of the bags to pay labourers in my fields or I sell
so that we eat meat at least everyday. I have also managed to pay
K45,000 fees for my son at New Era Private School ,” she states
But how was this turnaround made possible?
Irrigation, Rural Livelihoods and Agricultural Development Project
(Irlad) is a government agricultural project being implemented by the
Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security to raise agricultural
productivity and incomes of rural households in the districts of
Nsanje, Chikwawa, Blantyre, Phalombe, Zomba, Dedza, Lilongwe, Salima,
Nkhatabay, Rumphand Chitipa.
Nkhonyo benefitted under the project through the Input for Assets and
Farmer Services and Livelihood Fund through which the farmers
themselves demanded extension services which were provided through the
district assembly agricultural office.
Theresa Jabesi is one of 150 farmers in GVH Kachule who benefitted
from Irladp project activities in the village. For moulding bricks and
providing dambo sand for the construction of the community warehouse,
she received 10 kg of Pannar Seed and a 50kg bag of Urea fertilizer to
use in her one acre maize field.
With expert advice from extension workers, where she used to harvest
10 bags of fertilizer, she expects at least 40 bags this year.
Patricia Magola and her four children will not go hungry this year
thanks to assistance from Irladp. For working in the community maize
garden and moulding bricks for the warehouse, she received a bag of
fertilizer and seed.
This season she expects to harvest at least 8 bags of maize from her two acres.
Under the second component of farmer services and livelihood fund,
farmers of Kachule in Dedza were trained on improving marketing of
their produce and encouraged to carry out public works in exchange for
inputs under the Inputs for Assets project.
According to Irladp project coordinator Dickxie Kampani, the project
started in 2006 co-financed by World Bank and International Fund for
Agricultural Development (IFAD) with about US$52 million over five
The project has five components, namely rehabilitation of irrigation
schemes, farmer services and livelihood fund, social development and
community mobilization and project coordination and monitoring and
Under the project, 2,500 hectares of irrigation land is undergoing
rehabilitation including the main government schemes of Muona in
Nsanje, Limphasa in Nkhatabay, Likangala in Zomba and Nkhate.
Kampani said about 38 new irrigation schemes are being developed, 18
of which are small scale (10 to 50 Has).
Kampani however said relying on the decentralized system at districts
has been a problem for the project because most assemblies lack
capacity so they fail to adequately support the project.
Dedza district agriculture development officer William Kamlomo said
Kachule under T/A Kachere has been a beneficiary of Irladp activities
through the establishment of an irrigation scheme, agro-forestry,
community resource centres and farmer cooperatives.
In Kachule, the project also empowered the farmers to incorporate
issues of gender, equal distribution of resources and community
mobilization as the farmers were able to work together on five acres
of a community maize field.
After identifying land for the community garden, GVH Kachule gave the
farmers the go ahead and they would mould bricks while working in the
The field was divided into small areas which the farmers worked on
individually, applying manure and fertilizer as advised by the
A total of 15 bags of Urea fertilizer and 250 mounds of compost
manure, prepared by the farmers themselves, went into the garden in
“We have put in place procedures on how the maize will be divided and
what it will be used for. The harvest from this garden belongs to the
whole community,” Nkhonyo said.
After applying compost manure, Nkhonyo said the farmers believed the
extension workers when they said the land would be fertile for a long
time and they would always harvest more than an ox-cart of maize each
According to GVH Kachule, the 450 bags of maize which they hope to
harvest from the community garden will act as safeguard in times of
hunger in any one of the 792 households under his care.
In the past, if farmers harvested more than anticipated, they would
sell soon after and when food shortage hit the village, the households
were not prepared.
“150 farmers have worked in this field and this maize will be stored
in the warehouse which we have constructed under the inputs for assets
programme. Each farmer received a bag of fertilizer and seed for
working on the warehouse,” he said.
The farmers of GVH Kachule did not just stop at working together
increase maize yield and put money in their pockets but also
conserving the environment.
In 2008, about 90 farmers, of whom 50 were women, started an
agro-forestry nursery of green and red acacia trees in the village to
plant along Thethe river in the village.
The villagers saw the need for a forest after noting rampant siltation
in Thethe river because farmers would cultivate crops along the river.
The women suffered most, according to the forest supervisor Ellen
Dimba, because there were no trees to use for firewood in the trees
and they would travel long distances to fetch it.
About 5,500 trees were planted and since then, the farmers take turns
weeding the forest, binding the branches thereby ensuring all the
trees survive to maturity.
Most of the farmers stated that such agricultural development has been
successful because of the leadership qualities of their village
GVH Kachule agrees: “Being a chief is not about allowing access to the
graveyard or presiding over disputes between villagers. You have to
look after the well being of your people. What are they eating, are
they staying in good homes?”
If it were not for women like Asimenye Mwafulirwa, women and men of Mvera Support Battalion and surrounding villages in T/A Chiwere in Salima would not have made informed choices to put their children’s livelihoods and own lives first.
Mwafulirwa has been working as a Community Based Distribution Agent (CBDA) since 2008 and she has met with hostile couples who believe that modern family methods are too dangerous.
“I have been chased from people’s houses like a dog but I keep on visiting them until they understand what I am telling them and decide for themselves how they will use the information,” says the brave young woman.
Trained by Family Planning Association of Malawi (FPAM) in 2008, Mwafulirwa is a distributor of contraceptives door to door in Salima. She is one of 15 men and women who on a weekly basis visit couples in their areas of work informing them about family planning methods and how adopting them could change their lives.
They work in a catchment area of 5,630 people, each CBDA looks after the inhabitants of two villages, being there for them when they need help and visiting them frequently.
With a client list of over 200, Mwafulirwa is a hub of knowledge on sexually transmitted infections, HIV and AIDS and contraceptives.
Contrary to popular belief, Mwafulirwa says she does tell her clients about the advantages and disadvantages of using modern family planning methods.
While protesting the use of modern methods, the people in GVH Chiwere’s area argue that traditional methods of swallowing Mzama (pigeon peas) and tying Mkuzi have worked for them for many centuries.
Mwafulirwa says she has failed to get an understanding of how Mzama or Mkuzi works and her long client list can attest that people’s mindsets are changing.
One of Mwafulirwa’s clients is Donna Simfukwe (Mrs Mwangonde), 32, who as a Christian believes that mankind should be fruitful and multiply. As soon as she and her soldier husband married, she had five children in quick succession.
Her children are now aged 12, 11, 9, 8 and three. So how does she explain the gap between the fourth and last born?
“My husband and I didn’t believe in stopping the natural occurrence of having children. We believe in the bible and it doesn’t stop people from having as many children as they can. So we had five, four of them born one after the other,” she says.
While her friends joined community based organizations or became caregivers for the chronically ill, she was busy looking after her children or expectant with another child.
When a CBDA approached the couple, the Mwangondes realized how giving birth too quickly was affecting their life.
Since she started using the pill, her last child was born in 2007 and she has since joined a home based care group as a volunteer.
“We were buying nappies every year. To find soap, clothes and food for the children was not easy. Each year I would have only one chitenje for the baby. My children were always malnourished because I would stop breastfeeding when I became pregnant,” she says.
UNFPA reproductive health officer Juliana Lunguzi has touted family planning as the vaccine for preventing maternal mortality.
With the use of family planning, maternal deaths could go down from the current 807 per 100,000 live births, Under 5 mortality could reduce from even further from 100 per 1,000 live births to at least 72, as per Malawi’s MDG targets and the number of abortions which take place per year could go down from 80,000.
It has become so important that it is being repositioned as the catalyst for achieving the Millennium Developmen Goals (MDGs) 5 and 6 on reducing incidences of maternal and child mortality.
Being one of the policy themes of the reproductive health programme of the Ministry of Health and its partners, Lunguzi says there is need to increase the contraceptive prevalence rate from the current 41 per cent (including 3 per cent traditional methods) and cover the unmet need of 28 per cent.
The family planning method of pills and injectable, popularly known as Depo Provera, are the most popular in GVH CHiwere but unfortunately CBDAs like Mwafulirwa are not allowed to administer injectables.
This problem has been solved however as FPAM holds an outreach clinic at the Mvera Support Battalion where couples who have made choices such as injectables or vasectomy can be assisted, according to FPAM programme officer Bessie Nkhwazi.
In its outreach clinics, FPAM restocks family planning commodities, provides regular and emergency contraception, pregnancy tests and conducts voluntary counseling and testing for HIV.
Village Headman Mdoola says the Chiwere area has a population of close to 400 households but farming land is not enough.
The most popular crops grown are maize, groundnuts, tobacco and soya but every year, people continue to harvest less and less, especially the cash crops.
The village headman says in the last growing season some villages got less than 15 coupons to buy subsidized fertilizer and seed at K500 when more and more farmers could not afford inputs.
“We will have enough this year but if the population continues to grow, some families will start moving from here and settle somewhere else. Maybe along the lake,” he says.
He says when CBDAs started working in the villages, they were not taken seriously when told that the benefits of using family planning methods included fewer maternal deaths, healthy children and enough food.
“I now believe it. It was difficult at first to link how the issues were related because most of us believe in the traditional ways. We now have health personnel coming here and more and more people are attending the clinics,” he says.
There are many things that cause 4,624 Malawian mothers to die during childbirth every year. These are gender inequalities that prevent a woman from going to a hospital early enough to deliver without her uncle’s blessing; unavailability of reliable modes of transport to take her to a hospital equipped with basic emergency obstetric care or a health centre with only a nurse midwife to make 10 deliveries a day.
These causes of maternal deaths are in one way or the other linked to matters of culture, good roads, training of nurses and midwives and even shortage of drugs and medical supplies in our country’s hospitals.
But what it there was a way in which these 13 deaths of mothers per day could be prevented? What if there was a vaccine which mothers could take and avoid by a small margin dying while giving life?
UNFPA reproductive health programme officer Juliana Lunguzi believes if women tried as much as possible to use a family planning method, some of these deaths could be eliminated: family planning is the vaccine, she says.
If more women used contraception, 80,000 abortions could be avoided every year and deaths as a result of abortion related complications would be minimized
If many women decided to take a pill a day, 80 per cent of maternal deaths due to obstetric complications such as bleeding, ruptured uterus, infection, pre-eclampsia would not be a daily occurrence in our country’s hospital.
If this is one of the solutions, why is it family planning usage is only at 41 per cent, 3 per cent of which is use of traditional methods, according to the Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (2006).
Some of the commonly used methods in Malawi include male and female condoms, pills, depo-provera, Norplant, intra-uterine device or loop, vasectomy or sterilisation, all of which are available at government and private health institutions.
Currently, 100 per cent of Ministry of Health hospitals provide family planning services while it is available in 96 per cent of health centres and 58 per cent in Christian Health Association of Malawi (CHAM) facilities.
Lunguzi says despite this availabaility of services, the contraceptive prevalence rate has been creeping up too slowly due to over reliance on fixed service outlets.
Family planning is just one of the components of reproductive health programmes that government with assistance from various partners is undertaking.
Other components which together can make a woman’s happiest day end happy are prevention and management of sexually transmitted infections and HIV/AIDS, maternal and neo-natal health, management of unsafe abortion and elimination of harmful cultural practices.
Although it’s a long term strategy, family planning is currently being repositioned as the key strategy for achieving Millennium Development Goals of reducing maternal mortality from the current 807 deaths per 100,000 live births to 55 by the year 2015.
“Calculations show that investment of US$37 over the next decade will save Malawi US$76 over and above reducing maternal and child deaths. So it’s something very important all round,” Lunguzi states.
Increased investment in family planning programmes would also cover the 28 per cent of women who would love to use contraceptive but are unable to because of unavailability of their chosen method of contraception.
Increased use of contraceptives, especially among youths, would prevent the 35 per cent of unintended pregnancies among youths, in turn reducing 80,000 abortions which occur annually.
However, the youths are not actively engaged because contraceptive continue to be shrouded under the umbrella of family planning. If you are not married, you have no business seeking a family planning method.
17 year Rhoda Falasi is a Form 1 student at Chitowo CDSS in Dedza should be targeted for family planning methods but she has never been approached.
“I would like to know about family planning methods but I don’t really know of any because I am too young,” she says.
When pressed how she will make sure she doesn’t get pregnant when the time comes, Rhoda says maybe when gets married, the community based distribution agents (CBDAs) in her village will come to her.
She is however aware that some youths in her village inform others on using condoms during sex but she is yet again yet to be approached by her own peers.
Rhoda lives in Chitowo (population 29,404) in Dedza, an area that has garnered acclaim for reversing incidences of maternal deaths from 24 per year in 2001 to zero in 2009.
This was made possible by promoting community involvement in reproductive health through training of village health committees, setting up CBDAs and establishing community safe motherhood task forces.
The taskforce is given the responsibility of following up a pregnancy outcomes, examining and recording maternal deaths in their areas, according to Chitowo chairman of the taskforce, group village headman Dzoole.
The taskforce encourages the mother to deliver at a health centre and failure to do so, by-laws are enforced through fines of K1,000 or a goat.
But it is the role of CBDAs that is very crucial in Chitowo, as Mary Nyondo explains. She is mandated with distributing two contraceptive methods, condoms and pills.
Previously viewed as taboo (zolawula), Nyondo says most people in the area have done away with traditional methods and receive her more warmly when she visits them.
“I go door to door visiting my clients and counseling them on the methods they can use. When they select a method, I give them and inform them when I will visit them again,” she says.
But does she realize the importance of her work?
“Of course,” she says, “during training, we were told that if women in our areas do not give birth frequently, they will not die during child birth so we are doing our part in this work.”
Although she doesn’t distribute female condoms, Nyondo says some women have expressed interest after hearing about them on the radio. She hopes soon she will be able to distribute them alongside male condoms.
But when her clients choose the injection (or depo provera) or sterilization, she is trained to refer them to a hospital and she gives them a referral letter.
For now, she only counsels and approaches married women although this is not by choice.
“Some girls have approached me but only to tell me they fear their parents finding out they are using family planning. I have seen girls dying from child births and some died not knowing it could be prevented,” she says.
In her work, Nyondo travels on foot in the villages of Mphunda, Chitimbe, Chintiyande and Mkhanga logging in women she has helped and she should visit them again.
The fact that no woman has died from child birth related complications is enough reason for her to carry on.
A male CBDA Zebron Moyo is one of five members says secrecy is very important in the work they do which is why he only visits couples when they are together.
He works in six villages: Magwaza, Kauma, Chintokoma, Chagwiranyama, Nabwenje and Mtembe delivering condoms and pills with the hope of reducing maternal deaths.
Moyo is father of six children, three of whom are boys one of whom is married. His son finished stopped school in Form 1 and went on get married, which he says he regrets not stopping him now.
His daughters are still in school, one is in Standard 7, another is Standard 5 and the last one in Standard 4.
When asked whether he would be free to approach youths in his area about family planning methods, Moyo says the youths have other activities which keep them occupied such as playing bawo or dancing chitelera and sharing ideas HIV prevention messages.
He would however want to inform his own daughters of his work and its importance to their life but cultural traditions do not allow him to do so.
It’s accepting his young daughters will need to know about contraceptives that he has a problem with however important it might be.
If only he knew that he was administering a vaccine, perhaps he would sit his daughters down and tell them the hard facts of maternal deaths and its impact on the family, community and nation as whole.
Monday, 28 September 2009
Section 65 case out of court
BY SUZGO KHUNGA
Lawyers in the case in which MPs were challenging procedures laid out in Section 65 of the Constitution for crossing the floor have agreed to withdraw the case.
The matter will instead be referred to Parliament which will be expected to implement a comprehensive reform on Standing Orders which lay down procedures for removing an MP who is deemed to have crossed the floor.
This is because the MPs lawyers had argued that for the speaker to evoke Section 65, a committee should be formed according to Standing Order 46 (2) but this was not the case.
"A law should be passed addressing the problems on procedure for removing an MP in the standing orders not just relying on the Constitution," said the source.
He hoped this would be done before the five years of the current Parliament is up because the process would not be targeting anyone.
In this Parliament, the ruling party DPP has a majority of over 100 MPs which puts all legislation introduced to the House at a great advantage.
The lawyer said such laws would also apply to Section 86 (2) which talks about impeachment of the president and his vice whose relevant standing orders are not clearly laid down.
"The ones put in place a few years ago were also targeting the sitting president," he said.
Attorney General Jane Ansah said in an interview yesterday that as defendants, it was not up to them to withdraw the matter.
She said she could not say more because she was yet to receive a report on the case from the lawyers assigned.
The MPs lawyers also argued that the manner in which the Speaker had wanted to declare the MPs seats vacant was in contravention of the principles of natural justice, especially the right of the MPs to be heard.
This development comes after almost a year of adjournments on the start of a judicial review which the Lilongwe High Court granted Zomba Central MP Yunus Mussa and 40 others.
The MPs were represented by Innocentia Ottober and Maxon Mbendera among others while the state was represented by senior state advocate Pacharo Kayira and private lawyer Allan Chinula.
The injunction stopping Speaker Louis Chimango from evoking Section 65 was sought in 2007 and was lifted to allow for a judicial hearing which did not start.
The court had also allowed that the ground that the rights of parties must determined on the basis of the state of the law as it existed at the time when the issues arose not as it is now.
In a press release entitled 'Challenges for Parliament in 2008' which the former speaker Louis Chimango issued prior to the elections, he said Section 65 matters were 100 per cent unresolved.
Monday, 17 August 2009
When National Aids Commission (Nac) decided to root out harmful cultural practices, they thought of doing it gently to avoid upsetting some cultural balances.
In places like Nsanje where the predominant tribe is Sena, its cultural practices are rooted in sexual activities as a way of pleasing the spirits.
Almost every event in the community requires sexual cleansing, whether it be death (kulowa kufa), birth (kupita bzyade), accident (kupita ngozi), a fire (kupita moto) or even a pregnancy.
It was not surprising that Nac decided that some cultural practices had to be rooted out or in the least modified to suit the current times when HIV and AIDS has become a pandemic.
In 2003, Nsanje’s HIV prevalence was at 18 per cent but in five years since, it has gone down to at least 14 per cent, according to Nsanje district health officer Medson Semba.
Some areas in the district have abandoned some of the sexual cleansing practices while others have modified them.
For 20 year old Ofabia Bongwe and 24 year old Elizabeth Chiwalo, it was not so much as abandoning or modifying the cultural practices but completely shunning them.
Chiwalo, who is married and has three year old daughter has spent all her years in Ndenguma village, T/A Malemia and as a teenager, she went through the cultural practices as required of a girl who has reached marriageable age.
But because, she went to school and ended up becoming a member of several community based organisations, she realised the danger and absurdity of some of the practices.
She says Nsanje is rooted in cultural practices which she believes have components of witchcraft to them.
For example, when she gave birth to her daughter, she and her husband were expected to undergo a ritual called kupita bzyade, a family event whereby the couple would have sex for the first time after the birth of a baby.
Failure to do so would be a curse on the baby who could die from tsempho.
“I followed all the advice they gave me when I was expecting but when it came to this, my husband and I just pretended to do it to satisfy the elders in our two families,” she says.
Kupita bzyade, according to the Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) who conducted a research in 2003 to gauge which practices were impinging on a person’s human rights, is a practice which takes place over five days and involves the whole family.
All members are expected to abstain, and those who fail to are expected to apologise to the couple on the day of the ritual.
Chiwalo says although she had always known about this practice, it was humiliating when people started talking about when it would be conducted.
‘You can imagine, everyone knowing that something was happening, it wasn’t good. My husband and I agreed that we wouldn’t do it,” she says adding that her excuse to friends and parents is always ‘tinakulira moyenda’.
Since Bongwe, who has a 15 month old son, was not married, her parents were expected to do the ritual in her behalf.
For a woman who has died after a still birth, kulowa kufa and kupita bzyade is done by selected members of the family for a period of nine days.
Chiwalo says her months old pregnancy disappeared in May through witchcraft and the elders expect her to do kupita bzyade and kulowa kufa because they believe the child died or she had a miscarriage.
“We have lied that we did it but after the ritual I am expected to shave my head. I haven’t done that and when I am asked, I say next week,” says Chiwalo who hides her head under a headwrap.
Kupita moto, according to Chiwalo, a sexual cleansing conducted before the burning of bricks or when a house burns down, whether arson or accidental.
“This is supposed to be an offering to mizimu to remove any misfortunes that could happen again,” Bongwe says.
Bongwe, who had a child out of wedlock will have to undergo kululupitsa or kupeputsa thupi when she finally gets married, another sexual ritual which the elders believe removes any possible misfortune in the new family.
“I will not do that. They say if we don’t it we will die but there are many cultures who get married after having a child and other relationships. They don’t die,” Bongwe says.
Bongwe, just like Chiwalo, doesn’t take some of beliefs seriously and does not expect any calamities or misfortunes to happen.
Chiwalo, on the other hand, believes there is HIV and AIDS and because she knows the ways it is transmitted, she avoids all sexual cleansing practices.
“Pleasing mizimu has nothing to do with sex because we are advised to make other offerings such as food or if they refuse that sex between people who have recently been tested of HIV,” she says.
Its all just witchcraft, Bongwe says, the witches know you believe too much in the practices, then something bad is likely to happen to you.
But Gogo Estery Frank of Macadamera village, T/A Mbenje says children these days don’t respect what the beliefs and practices have tried to teach the Sena people.
She firmly believes that failure to perform some of the sexual cleansing results in illness or death of a child because of tsempho.
Gogo Frank, who says she had five children when Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda, came to Nyasaland in 1958, cites a practice which says is meant to protect the child when a mother has sex soon after having a baby.
“When this girl goes to meet her man, she is supposed to carry a chitenje, bundle it up and put it on the side of the bed they will be lying on. When she come back home, she is supposed to take that cloth and wrap it around the baby. This way there will be no tsempho,” she says.
If a woman fails to do this, her child becomes ill with swelling in the face and arm and the baby could die.
On whether she is aware that Nsanje is ravaged by HIV mostly because of sexual cleansing practices which in the past went unchecked, Gogo Frank says she is aware but blames it on the misbehaviours of the young people.
During the practice of kumulangiza wapakati, which she takes part in many times, she now advises young women not to breastfeed at all because she was misinformed that HIV can be transmitted through breastmilk all the time.
“Aids is here because young people these days don’t take care. Children are dying from tsempho because they don’t follow what mizimu dictates,” she says.
But MHRC has through its research recommended that not all cultural practices were bad but just needed slight modification.
For example, those aimed at protecting the life of a pregnant woman or child were highly recommended while those that required sexual cleansing between married couples, MHRC and Nac recommended the use of condoms.
But if young people like Bongwe and Chiwalo start shunning these practices, good or bad, they could soon die out.
The Malawi Human Rights Commission has compiled a list of cultural practices which they found might be useful to preserving culture and life in traditional settings but also those that impinge on other's fundamental rights.
Gender does not come into play here. That is left to organisations working in the gender sector to point out those practices which highlight gender disparaties in society.
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