Classic DACB Collection

All articles created or submitted in the first twenty years of the project, from 1995 to 2015.

Chipembere, Habil Matthew (A)

Anglican Communion

Malawian clergyman and educationist.

He was born in Masiye Village, Chiwanga Niassa province, Mozambique, on the eastern shore of Lake Malawi directly opposite Nkota-kota on the other side. His parents, from the same people as the famous Undi chief whose land was later parceled between Nyassaland (now Malawi) and northern Rhodesia (now Zambia), fled from the Ngoni invasion of Malawi. These people, the original Nyanja (so called in the local language because they were great fishermen and were associated with the lake Nyaja) arrived on the Mozambique side of Lake Malawi just after the partition of Africa. They were the bearers of the original name of Malawi. They were strong followers of the Anglican Church and out of their population came a very high number of Anglican priests. The first African translation of the Bible was into their language.

While Habil’s father had given his children religious freedom, he remained a polygamist and a famous trader (known as a faida) in the coastland area of Tanzania, trading in elephant tusks, hand crafts and possibly slaves in exchange for cloths, beads and other commodities. He was not baptized until later in life and even then insisted on being called Yusuf, the Muslim or Swahili version of his baptismal name. Habil was enrolled at the Chiwanga (Msumba) Lakeshore Mission School and attended Sunday school as well in preparation for admission into the Christian faith. When he was baptized he took the names Habil Matthew Chipembere, dropping his traditional names.

Habil made rapid progress in school and easily passed the Saint Michael Teachers’ Training College Entrance Examination. The school had been transferred from Kango, on the Mozambican side of Lake Nyasa, to Likoma Island in what was then Nyasaland. The transfer took place after Portuguese authorities had the principal, the Reverend Arthur (after whom Habil named his first son), murdered for refusing the local officers free access to the women students. In 1915 Habil was admitted to St. Michael’s College, Makulawe, one of two students that year. However, due to the fact that the college was closed during part of the First World War, he did not finish his studies until 1919, the year he married Drusilla Salim.

Since missionaries circulated freely between Tanganyika, Mozambique and Nyasaland at that time, teachers and other members of staff could be freely transferred from one territory to another. Thus, after working for one year at his old school in Msumba (Mozambique), Habil was transferred to various mission stations in Nyasaland and in Tanganyika before he was eventually moved to Fort Johnson (now Mangochi) where he and his family finally settled among his people, who had also emigrated back to Nyasaland. Habil also served as a tutor at his former Teacher’s Training College in Likoma before he enrolled as a deacon in 1933. He qualified in 1935 and was ordained on 25 January 1938. His first station was in Liuli in Tanganyika, then within the diocese of southwest Tanganyika, which also includes Mozambique, Malawi and northern Rhodesia. During World War II he was chaplain to soldiers in Kenya and in that capacity travelled widely, even as far as India. In 1960 Bishop Frank Throne ordained him canon.

Such was the impact of his work as a priest that Habil was promoted in 1963 to archdeacon–the first Anglican archdeacon of southwest Nyasa. At this time, however, his family was already heavily engulfed in the politics of Nyasaland. His son Henry Masauko Blamus Chipembere was already on the forefront of the struggle for independence and a member of the legislative council as well as treasurer general of the Nyasaland African Congress. When Masauko was jailed for three years, the Malawi Congress Party, formed after the Nyasaland African Congress was banned, unanimously nominated Habil for the Fort Johnson constituency (the stronghold of Masauko). He was elected unopposed and served as one of the respected old members of parliament in self-governing Malawi until Masauko was released to take up the seat himself in 1963.

Habil, however, went on to serve as a figure in Malawi politics, particularly in the Mangochi (Fort Johnson) district. Thus, after the Malawi 1964 cabinet crises in which three senior members of government were sacked and three others, including Masauko, resigned in sympathy, Habil fell out of favour with the Banda regime after Banda had attempted several times to win his loyalty, either by wooing him or intimidating him. When finally Masauko, Silombela and others took up armed resistance against Banda, Habil (already under various threats) felt that he and his family were in danger. Eventually he was banished from Likoma Island and chose to live in exile in Tanzania where he served as a priest at his old station of Mbamba Bay from 1966 on, the year he retired. He joined his son Masauko, also in exile, in Dar-es-Salaam. Habil died in exile there in 1976. At his funeral ceremony at St. Alban’s Church, eight fellow Anglican priests officiated, including Archbishop John Sepeku of the Anglican Communion of Tanzania.[1]


Note: 1. Correction provided in email sent on Nov. 11, 2011 by Augustino S. L. Ramadhani, judge of the African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights (from 2010). Email: [email protected].

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