During her time away from Malawi, Joyce Banda served as a distinguished fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center in the United States, and has just finished writing a book, From Day One, on the issues around women and the girl child.
What are you looking forward to and how does it feel?
I am so happy I have done all I wanted to do and am going home. There’s much excitement in Malawi… I guess I am the only one not excited… It has been a week of hype and I am totally surprised and humbled because I didn’t know just how much Malawians love me.
We don’t have any female presidents on the continent at the moment… why are there so few women in politics?
Women’s leadership is under attack globally. Start from Australia, look at what happened to Julia Gillard. And you go to Thailand and look at what happened to the former Prime Minister…
I’ve been speaking a lot in the US and the question I always ask is ‘tell me why [as] the oldest democracy for 200 years, [why] you have not managed to have one woman in state house’?
Coming back to Africa, we haven’t done badly, at least we had four women. We went to Beijing in 1995; we agreed that it was part of the work plan that we are going to come back and get into leadership. I remember asking Mrs Gertrude Mongella, who was the Secretary-General of the UN Fourth World Conference on Women, ‘because men are already sitting in the seats, how can we go to parliament?’ They said ‘go and push them if you have to’. And we went home, tried our level best and got into leadership.
In Africa, go one by one, and check how they left, go and see what Catherine Samba-Panza is going through in Central African Republic; see what is happening in Mauritius to our friend who just left a few weeks ago. So at the end of the day, you ask, why is it we don’t have any more female leaders in Africa? My answer is we have done well as a continent, we have found ways of getting our women into state house, but perhaps what we have to do is learn how to keep them there. And Africa hasn’t done badly.
Somebody asked me, what can I say about feminism? I said ‘no, Africa shall have it all; it shall design its own because we can’t copy what’s happening elsewhere unless we are convinced it’s working there’. But how can we copy other models where women are still not getting equal pay, where women can’t even go on maternity leave, where for 200 years, there’s no female president? The continent with the highest number of women in parliament is Africa – three countries have 40% women in cabinet. And the time I was head of state, I took advantage of that position to appoint my fellow women… The advantage of us cutting into state house is we focus on social issues; we want people to have electricity, clean water and fuel every day. We want hospitals to have medicines, we want schools to have school materials but the challenge is how do we keep women in state house?
Is the patriarchal mind-set to blame?
It is. In fact I think the death of Mama Winnie Mandela and all that has been revealed these past weeks has opened the debate and women are sitting down and saying, ‘how could we not have seen?’ Because we never did… That’s what her daughter said when she spoke at the funeral: ‘why did you people wait until my mother is gone, to vindicate her?’ That is the kind of pain women are going through and nobody seems to care. I don’t know why the media doesn’t seem to dig more into this misogyny, and abuse to women leaders…
Do you have presidential ambitions again?
No. It is not up to me. I don’t care about going to state house… I am just going back home.
Are you returning to politics?
I am not planning anything. From this far, I don’t know the political landscape on the ground. I am highly experienced in politics. And I was very fortunate. When my husband retired [as chief justice], I decided I can enter politics. So I did at age 54, I was late… the president didn’t allow me to join the national executive committee so he sent me down to the grass roots. So I came from the grass roots as a treasurer in the village. I had the opportunity to study and I was fortunate when elected head of women in 2003 in my party…
What have you been up to in the last four years?
…In the time I have been away from home, I’ve spoken 37 times, received 12 international awards, written two papers, written a book, been appointed to five international awards and received an honorary doctorate. Everybody who has been with me in the US know I’ve run non-stop. It’s been time well spent. At the Woodrow Wilson Centre, they even assisted me to draw up a tool kit. I can now go into any country and speak with authority about how I feel women should be treated, how the space should be created at the table for women to participate in leadership.
In Malawi, what are your plans for women and children, through your foundation?
The Joyce Banda Foundation is bigger than Joyce Banda. I established it in 1997 when I received the Africa Prize so it cuts across all parties. It has 500,000 women beneficiaries in micro finance, it has sent to school 6,500 girls, it has a sponsorship program, and a youth program. We have five pillars in the Joyce Banda foundation: one is income, we believe that in the rural household if there is income the woman is in control and can provide better health and nutrition and even send girls to school and will also make decisions about her life; she can make choices to stay or leave an abusive place.
The second pillar is education for the girl child, because if she doesn’t go to school, then she is exposed to all harmful traditions. The third is maternal health. My research has shown that those that have died giving birth are between the ages of 11 to 19. So there is a connection with education. This girl child should go to secondary school. The four years in secondary school is not just about her future, it is also about her health.
The fourth pillar is leadership. I believe we must find ways; hence my research, find ways of allowing more and more women to enter politics and participate in leadership. And the last one is human rights which is a cross-cutting pillar.
What is the current investment climate in Malawi?
I believed the day I left office, I needed to step aside and look the other way. And provide an opportunity for the sitting president to freely show his capabilities. He is my president because I conceded and I accepted that he can become president, so the last thing that I want to is poke my nose into what he is doing right and not.
I just feel sad and surprised when they say people are going 36 hours without electricity… I don’t understand some of the hardships my Malawians are facing because I say this boat is connected when you ask about the investment climate. There is nobody who is going to invest in a country that has 170MW of electricity. That doesn’t happen.
– Interviewed by Methil Renuka; for the full interview, visit www.cnbcafrica.com
IN PICTURES | The glass ceiling is what she makes it
One of the most commercially successful artists in Kenya, Nani Croze, has lived a life few could dare to
The journey to the Kitengela Glass estate begins like any other from Nairobi. Traffic is often heavy and there is frustration on the roads. But as you pass through the last of it, a different world unfurls. The road is murram (gravelly) and a new settlement is unfolding around it, overlooked by a new railroad track for the high-speed train to Mombasa, recent signs of development consuming the old Maasai plains.
But no less than a mile away, cushioned by the narrow gorges of the Nairobi National Park, is the entry into a wonderland where the life and work of German-born artist Nani Croze has concentrated for over the last 40 years. It is an eccentric paradise with a lush covering of indigenous trees and shrubs, canopies over stunning and colorfully outrageous architecture that announce the artist in her territory.
However, her life in Kenya was a gift of fate. Croze first came to East Africa with her first husband, the animal behaviourist, Harvey Croze, and their children at the end of the 1960s.
“I came to Africa in 1968 to study elephants in the Serengeti and four years later, the study was finished and we decided to go back across the continent back to Europe. I filled a VW van with my three kids, safely in the back, and we got as far as the Kenyan border. The car broke down and we stayed…and that was that,” she tells me in the aviary area outside her house as birdsong echoes around generous foliage.
Mother Nani, or ‘Mama’ to the community of artisans and their families that also call Kitengela Glass home, is a matriarch in this setting. Her hair is pinned up in a loose bun revealing tanned cheeks and piercing blue eyes.
A formidable painter and muralist, Croze is an artist of many mediums. However, a little-known fact is her life in science. As a young woman, she convinced the Nobel Prize-winning biologist and founding father of the science of animal behavior, Konrad Lorenz, to work under him. Her earlier works depict this scientific knowledge in lively wildlife motifs.
Nonetheless, she is perhaps most known, these days, for her work with glass. Her estate is testament to this; colored glass panels of all shapes and sizes line the structures at the entry of her world. The winding walkway is flanked by sculptures accented with thick glass. The outdoor seating is dalle-de-verre.
The workshop and furnace are open for passersby to see. Its products, ever-present at every corner of the estate, also decorate the balustrades of the estate’s gallery, roof to her personal studio, intentionally constructed around a formidable mogumo (African fig) tree, a souvenir from the early days. She found it growing on the barren plains of what would become estate when she arrived in 1979, a genus local legend claims can never die.
By this then, a single mother of three, Croze stumbled in to the glass arts out of economic necessity. She had purchased the land from the Maasai community of the area and was, at the time, a working muralist.
“My architect [told me] ‘you can’t pay school fees with murals, you better start something new, what about stained glass?’” she recalls.
An influx of Christian missions meant that stained glass windows were crucial for finishing new churches and, as an art, they were more profitable. This has since expanded to a wide-range of recycled glass products from blown glass to beads, mosaics, murals, sculpture and, of course, dalle de verre. However, the stained glass studio, the first on the estate, still remains, busy and peopled, tucked away in a quiet corner of the gallery building.
Croze, perhaps one of the most commercially successful artists in Kenya, is often credited for introducing this new craft to the region. She herself is self-taught and along with her son, Anslem, trained by glass-blowers in the South of France and Holland, built the first furnace in East Africa. He eventually took over the glass-blowing side of the business and now runs his own studio next door along with an eponymous retail brand in Nairobi selling decorative glass vessels, furniture and lighting.
In her own right, Nani is responsible for training the first Kenyan glass artisans, initially in stained glass and then in glass-blowing and mosaics.
“We started together, my first [assistant] was a man called Omondi. We started on stained glass-making and how it works and it’s quite a process but once you’re in it, like all my guys here… you get quite good at it. It’s a traditional and weary process but once you have [the finished window] you have something beautiful that can never be undone,” she says.
Of the things that cannot be undone is Croze’s legacy not only within the community of the estate and the industry she has created around it but in the lives of many in East Africa.
Kitengela Glass is home to more than 50 artisans and their families, many of whom have gone on to build independent careers in and outside of glass art. An example is Edith Nyambura, formerly the resident mosaic artist, who began her career at Kitengela and eventually wrote a book about her work in 2010.
There is also the young Patrick Kibe, colloquially known as ‘Mr. Dudu’ (Mr. Insect in Kiswahili), who arrived as a student at the estate almost a decade ago and is now carving his own niche, creating figures and sculptures of indigenous flora and fauna from recycled materials.
Then there is the school Croze founded, not far from the estate, often billed as the first of its kind in sub-Saharan Africa. Her motivation was to introduce to the country the creative education she had received as a young girl in Germany, which she regretted that her own children did not have attending local schools.
“We have such terrible schools in Kenya that are so bad for children! A child should grow up free, they should have music, art, new movement and environment,” she laments.
The Rudolf Steiner School started with a class of 10 in Nairobi’s leafy Karen suburb, popularly known as the setting of Out of Africa, Karen Blixen’s pre-colonial odyssey.
“It took its time. We had a very good worldwide sponsorship, especially from Germany. We’ve had our ups and downs but now we have two in Karen and the other one in Kitale [in western Kenya].”
In addition to her contributions in education, she is also a key campaigner for young artists across Kenya. She is the founder of the annual Kenya Arts Diary, a weekly calendar and catalog of up-and-coming contemporary artists in the country.
The ninth edition was released in November with an exuberant exhibition at the Nairobi Museum and since its founding has been produced by a group of passionate volunteers. Every year, she picks up two artists featured in the diary and invites them to a residency at the estate. The inspiration for the project, she says, was her father, the acclaimed German woodcut artist HAP Grieshaber, who also took a similar interest in his students.
“He would always help his students. Art is very expensive most people can’t buy it so you either make it yourself or you make sure it happens. The diary is just a venue to make sure people buy it and see it every week,” she notes.
Although the next issue of the arts diary will be her last, Croze remains ever passionate about her adopted home and community and hopes to continue giving back to it while she is still alive.
“I was the first mzungu [Caucasian] in Maasailand…we had a really good relationship and we still have with the Maasai community but my Ma is still not very good, I must say. I feel very much a part of the community,” she says.
Croze is a focal point at the Nairobi National Museum, from the dalle-de-verre mural that welcomes museum-goers at the main exhibition hall, to her mosaic path that snakes through the museum gardens to the goliath metal and glass sculptures that mark the way through the complex. She remains one of the few living artists in Kenya to have such a permanent and public showing.
Even away from the whimsical glass oasis that she has built, echoes of her are littered across Nairobi. Her commissioned murals on major commercial buildings such as the American Embassy in the city’s diplomatic district. She was the first to color the walls of the newly-established United Nations Environmental Programme, UNEP, in 1972. Her art is also at the Times Tower in the heart of the old city, home to the tax authority. There are also pieces dotted across the region, a recent commission at a call center in Eldoret, in western Kenya, and the windows at the Serena Hotel in Kigali.
“I just want to make sure that it all keeps going. There are always problems here and there, all the time, but I want to keep it going,” she says.
Croze, true to her word, is still going with plans for a vocational school to train a larger population of recycled glass artisans in the nearby township of Tuala. Plans are also underway for a devotional school to replace her personal chapel that was lost in a land dispute and, of course, more commissions while she is still able to work on them.On the future of the world around her, a life’s work, she is surprisingly indifferent. “I leave it to the Gods,” she ruminate
IN PICTURES | The ugly dress that made this designer
Gracia Bampile’s dislike for African print made her turn it around into a full-time obsession.
It all began with a pink dress – a present she received a week before her seventh birthday from her parents. Gracia Bampile put it away excited for the day she would wear it.
She recalls going to school and telling everyone about her new outfit. The enthusiasm, however, was short-lived. She changed her mind about her gift the moment she wore it and took a closer look at it.
“I remember thinking I would rather not celebrate my birthday. I was traumatized… The dress was just horrendous.”
The material felt like plastic, it was ugly, it was not the right fit, and even for a seven-year-old, she knew the design did not make the cut.
“I felt like I was wearing a granny dress. My birthday was just ruined by that dress,” Bampile recollects.
“I got so angry with my parents that I couldn’t let go. That’s how my passion for fashion started. I didn’t want to feel like that again.”
That was her epiphany, the start of a fashion journey, disliking African print as a result of a bitter experience. She thought it was too bright and stayed as far from it as she could.
Today, Bampile is a fashion entrepreneur setting the standard for African print. She is the founder of Haute Afrika, a contemporary brand that prides itself in affordability and class.
She was born in a small town called Goma in the east coast of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in 1991 – on the border line of the DRC and Rwanda. At the age of six, Bampile and her family left the DRC, leaving her seamstress-grandmother behind. They moved to East Africa and lived in Uganda for about seven years, then Kenya, then arrived in South Africa when she was 19. They left due to the conflict in the DRC that still rages on.
“My granny was a tailor. At some point, she stopped making clothes. My gran didn’t teach me to sew on purpose… [Yet], on holidays, we would go visit her in Rwanda and I would be her assistant,” says Bampile.
Just two years later, her aging grandmother saw her resourcefulness and promoted Bampile to crafting complete garments.
That is how her style evolved, through her grandmother’s experience in sewing. She was big on quality and passed it down to the next generation.
“That is something that is seen in Haute Afrika’s designs today. My garments are not constructed to sell, we are big on quality and our sewing is impeccable,” says Bampile.
Her complicated relationship with African fashion changed, the more she interacted with patterns and the creation of garments.
“When I got to the age of 15, I thought maybe it’s not the African print [that’s the problem], it was probably the way it was presented to me. I went on a journey of rediscovering African print and design. My love for it was revived,” she says.
When she was a teenager, African print was not readily available. Her mind-set then was not to be a designer, she simply wanted to look good and got her clothes made by a tailor.
By 2012, when Bampile was 21, African print was rising in popularity – people started wearing it and it was easily accessible.
This was also a time when Bampile was in varsity and experimenting with African patterns. She says people would stop her and ask about her garments, and the idea of Haute Afrika began simmering in her mind.
“It started as an African fashion blog; I started an Instagram account, opened a Facebook page and reposted other people’s designs because I didn’t have my own stuff. I never saw this as an actual thing, it was just for fun,” she says.
“Clearly, it’s not the material or the tradition or the culture [that’s the problem], it’s just the way it was presented. And that’s what I’m big on – presenting African print as your normal everyday wear.
“I want to you to be able to wear this dress to church, work, a birthday party, a baby-shower or to a wedding.”
In her new collection, she aims to simplify African print as much as possible. There is less extravagance and the ordinary bright colors persist, to attract the everyday person who wants to represent Africa.
The brand was launched in 2016 after she started taking it seriously as a profession. She went back to her grandmother for design advice. She started doing research and did a short course in fashion to enhance her credentials.
Importing material from Nigeria, Congo, Ghana and Turkey, Bampile intends to expand her reach to other parts of the globe.
“The next step for the brand actually scares me. Sometimes I feel like my dreams are crazy. The name haute itself means height/high in French, so in fashion, haute couture means high fashion, but for me it’s Haute Afrika because this is Africa, I want Africa to have a brand that is big on its own and emphasize quality.
“This means taking Africa out of Africa. European brands are coming into Africa, but why aren’t African brands going out?” she says.
Haute Afrika mostly sells online, to clients outside South Africa. She says her biggest clients are in Europe and America. Her most recent buyer was from Indonesia.
Speaking about her progress in the industry, Bampile adds: “I previewed my stuff at the Free State Fashion Week and it was super-awesome.
“The reaction was just unbelievable. Some designers take years to showcase at a fashion week and I took two.
“Last year, I was really surprised. I did 10 weddings – three white and the other seven were traditional. I couldn’t believe people trusted me with their weddings when they haven’t seen [enough of] my work.”
In 2018, she scaled up, doing about 15 weddings.
“I am also proud of myself this year because I have more people buying Haute Afrika for everyday wear,” she says.
The requests from her clients have also diversified.
“A gentleman came in and he wanted a transformation of his wardrobe. We made 10 pants for him. That’s what he’s probably going to wear next year. I’m also proud of the fact that I’m not only attracting people that have events, but also the everyday person, which is what I wanted to do with my collection.”
Bampile employs two full-time and two part-time workers at her studio in Sandton, miles away from that first garment that wrecked her seventh birthday but made her whole life.
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READ FULL STORY | Lights Camera Connie!
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