Helen Singh: Determined to lead Malawi

In this second of the series on presidential hopefuls in Malawi, Nyasa Times’ Special Projects and Supplements Editor, Pius Nyondo, tells the profile of one of Malawi’s most extraordinary candidates Abusa Helen Singh – a Malawian lady who has defied all odds and has come up to contest men, including her fellow female contender President Joyce Banda, who is already basking in the glory of State Presidency.

Abusa Helen Singh. She has the confidence. In a setting like Malawi where women are regarded as second class citizens, it is no easy task for such to come in the limelight and dare men in a big race like that of bidding for the State Presidency.

From nowhere Singh has come up boldly and very optimistic. She has defied all odds and ably stands in a trade mostly plied by men. You see, in Malawi it is not easy for a woman to even stand at a pulpit and preach the word of God – which knows no sex or race. Yet she is there, domineering, making headlines – a David in the field of Goliaths.

And, in a country where more than three-quarters of registered voters are females, Singh can confidently claim that she has an upper hand in the next week’s elections. Unlike other contestants who capitalize on, for example, their being in government once, Singh has nothing of that sort. She is clean. She is new but bold. She might probably be the very best. She has all the reasons to believe she can become Malawi’s next president.

Sighn: Presidential hopeful

Sighn: Presidential hopeful

 Female Presidential Ticket

To balance up gender issues, as most do, people would have expected Singh to choose somebody of the opposite sex to up her chances of becoming this country’s president.

After all, it is a fact that late President Bingu wa Mutharika – who died of cardiac arrest on April 5, 2012 – registered a considerable support from women in the 2009 general elections for his having Joyce Banda – current State President – as running mate.

But Singh thinks differently – something Malawi needs, to turn tables around.

She has Chrissy Tembo – a fellow female – for a running mate. Tembo comes from Traditional Authority Mabilabo in Malawi’s northern region district of Mzimba.

So, Singh is no tribalist.

After Loveness Gondwe – a former deputy speaker of parliament –, Singh is the first Malawian female – with her United Independent Party (UIP) – to personally announce her candidacy for the presidency.

She started her campaign on 10th February, 2014 with “Hallelujah” and “Asalam Alaikum” slogans.

That is why she always says “I will make it. God is on my side.”

 Who’s Helen Singh?

Singh has unsuccessfully contested for a parliamentary seat in Ntcheu Bwanje Constituency twice, and she is a woman of so much confidence – the size of a big elephant.

 

“I have relied on the faith of God to make it, and I will make it in next week’s tripartite elections,” Singh told Nyasa Times this week.

Aged  62, she comes from Traditional Authority Kwataine in Ntcheu District.  She said her name is Singh because her husband, whom she met in the 70s, was from India. Mr. Singh died in 2001.

Much as from a family of six, Singh recalls – at her father’s determination and foresight – attending a number of boarding secondary schools. In her family, three were boys while the other half was girls.

Her father was a foreman who supervised the Lusaka Malawi road way back in Malawi’s colonial era.

Educational Background

Singh attended Chichiri Primary Schools where the Polytechnic Annexe is located today.

It was during the era of what so-called “Malawi’s founding leader Dr H Kamuzu Banda called the ‘stupid federation’.”

“During our time we were divided,” she recalls. “They were schools for coloureds, Africans and whites.”

Singh was later selected to Limbe Convent where she did her O-Levels, and then joined The Polytechnic where she did her secretarial studies education.

She dropped out in 1967 because she had “language understanding problems.”

Singh worked with National Bank, Price Water House Coopers before she – and her husband – launched SS-Rent-A-Car.

 Family hurdles: Strong character after husband death

When her husband died, Singh admits the world conspired against her – especially after one of very her own son turned against her.

“I felt bad,” she said. “But I’m a great believer in God. He did awful things including sending police to my office telling them that I had secret documents in my office.

“He beat me up and did all kinds of things but he is my son and I still love him.”

She says she is a woman who strongly believes in reconciliation and not vengeance.

“It has not been an easy ride but God is faithful,” admits Singh.

Presidential Debates

Nation Publications Limited 2014 award winning investigative journalist and editor of Nation on Sunday Ephraim Munthali described Singh – during the second presidential debate organised by National Media Institute for Southern Africa (Namisa) – as “the only female presidential candidate who was impressive.”

“Singh is well read and demonstrated enough knowledge of issues to make her a policy wonk and showed a lot of emotions in her well-delivered responses.”

“She exuded empathy; that she gets it, in a folksy way that is refreshing. She certainly knows how to use her past experience to show what the poor go through in their day-to-day-lives,” opined Munthali.

“I have worked to help the poor for over twenty years now. It is this community work that made me realise that poverty levels are very deep and very painful,” she said in a quite emotional voice during the second presidential debate on 23rd April, 2014.

She showed that she is a formidable politician when she delivered, with a catch in her voice that “it breaks my heart that after 50 years there are still people who have absolutely nothing.”

According to Nation’s Munthali, Singh “musters an emotional appeal that should make other candidates pause.  Mix with the good ideas that she offered – abolish and replace the coupon system, strengthened targeted agriculture research in universities; diverse crop production to get rid of mono-cropping; establish vocational centres in every district; village polytechnics and remove the quota system ‘so that the students go to university by merit, not by districts they come from.’”

 Conclusion

If Malawians want to experiment with new blood, and experience an aura of freshness, then Singh is the woman to vote for. She is candid. She is precise. She is one of her own kind. Abusa Helen Singh is one Malawians would never regret voting her into the presidency during the next week’s May 20 tripartite elections.

It’s the choice of Malawians, on May 20.

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