Sande Mwale, Stoneham Silia

Church of Central Africa Presbyterian

Stoneham Sande Mwale was a dynamic minister who served as Moderator of Nkhoma Synod, Church of Central African Presbyterian, and later challenged the direction being taken by the Synod. He was born on July 7, 1958 into the family of Edward Sande and Marita Mwale at Madisi hospital, Dowa District. It was a large family of eleven children, seven boys and four girls, although six of the children died during childhood. His parents were both commercial farmers. [1] He went to three different primary schools, at Madisi, Nambuma and Mvera, before gaining a place at Robert Blake Secondary School. Here he flourished not only academically and socially but also spiritually. He began to consider the possibility of becoming a minister. While progressing in his studies at school, he also gained practical skills in bricklaying and farming. After leaving school he developed a farming business and became well-known as a businessman in Madisi. He married Ireen Timothy Phiri Sande, who was also from Madisi, and they had a daughter, Lesser Mayankho Sande. Gradually he became convinced that God was calling him to the ministry and applied to the CCAP Nkhoma Synod for admission to theological training. [2] Nine times he applied without success but at the tenth attempt, in 1990, he was selected and went to take his Diploma in Theology at Zomba Theological College.

After completing his training, he was ordained on August 31, 1995 to Mtuntha CCAP, Chileka Presbytery in the north-west of Lilongwe District. Here his ministry soon had a significant spiritual impact. Revival meetings were held, which led to the establishment of three new Prayer Houses of Mtuntha congregation. A larger church was required to accommodate the growing congregation. After there were some difficulties with the contractor who was engaged to construct the church, Sande Mwale himself undertook to complete the building, with his brother bringing sand and other building materials. The congregation were amazed to see their minister physically building the new church. On one occasion, when he was building the gable wall, the ladder broke and he fell to the ground. The church members wanted to take him to hospital, but he refused and continued with the building work until the new church was completed. He was also able to construct a new road to Mtuntha CCAP since he believed that good transport and communications would improve the livelihood of the people of the area. His 3-year ministry at Mtuntha CCAP made a great impact. [3]

He was then called to Mziza CCAP in the south-east of Kasungu District and was commissioned on July 17, 1998. Soon his ministry at Mziza was flourishing. Many new prayer houses were planted, and he promoted the development of the community, particularly with the opening of new primary schools. In 1999 he was responsible for the opening of a new Health Centre and in 2001 he founded Mziza Mission Secondary School, which had a strong Christian ethos. He improved the water supply to the church, school, hospital and surrounding villages. He also constructed a new road from Bua Trading Centre to Mziza Mission. He became involved in political affairs as a staunch advocate of the Malawi Congress Party, which was in opposition at that time. As a Chewa, he cultivated good relations with the Nyau secret society and practitioners of the gule wamkulu (big dance). He argued that the church should recognise the value of the gule wamkulu as part of Chewa culture but that, equally, the Nyau society should respect the presence of Christianity. [4]

His leadership qualities did not go unrecognised in the wider church. He was elected Moderator of Nkhoma Synod in 2003 and soon established himself as the spiritual father of the Synod. One of his initiatives was to renovate Kaso Cottage near Mvera, the retreat house where W.H. Murray worked on the translation of the Bible into Chichewa during the early 20th century. The cottage had been badly neglected for many years, but Sande Mwale was determined that the place where the Bible was translated should be accorded due dignity and the renovation was completed. [5] He also campaigned successfully for the Government to improve the road from Kamphata to the Synod headquarters at Nkhoma. A fine new road was opened on November 26, 2006. After completing his term as Moderator, he was elected Deputy Synod Clerk in 2009. In this role he emphasised the love and unity of the Synod while safeguarding the doctrine of the Synod with emphasis on the true preaching of the gospel and a holy way of life. His final term in the Synod leadership was from 2011 to 2013 when he served as Vice Moderator and continued preaching his message about the need for love and unity in Nkhoma Synod. After stepping down from leadership at Synod level he remained very active, ministering socially, spiritually, politically and economically to people of all levels. [6]

At the same time, he became concerned that some within the Synod were departing from the true preaching of the gospel and bringing in strange teachings and practices. He formed and championed a “Concerned Group” which wrote a circular titled Mdima Mu Synod Ya Nkhoma (Darkness in the Nkhoma Synod), which was read in almost all Nkhoma Synod churches. This document highlighted a number of concerns. The first was that some ministers were no longer following the traditional liturgy at services of worship but were introducing what Sande Mwale termed “entertainment worship.” A second concern was the use of chinyengo ndi chiphuphu (corruption and bribery) in the conduct of elections for leadership positions in the Synod. Thirdly, he raised concern about the influence of tsankho (tribalism), which was causing the Synod to fragment into factions defined by tribal identity. Fourthly, he highlighted a lack of love among the members of the Synod – something that greatly troubled him. Fifthly, he objected to the preaching of the prosperity gospel in the Synod’s churches. Sixthly, he condemned the introduction of secular styles of dancing by choirs leading worship at Nkhoma Synod services. At the end of the circular, he advised the leadership of the Synod to call an emergency meeting, which was scheduled for June 30, 2014. However, the meeting did not take place and Sande Mwale himself was accused of being osokoneza komanso opanda uzimu (provocative and non-Christian).

Controversy also engulfed him at his own congregation, Mziza CCAP, where members of Kalumba Prayer House blamed him for the Session’s decision that they should not be given the status of a full congregation. They wanted to remove him from office and went so far as sending a truck to the manse to remove all his property while he was absent. Though the truck was blocked and sent back to Mziza, some of Sande Mwale’s property went missing and was never recovered. Soon after this disturbing experience, he began to feel unwell. Though he was treated at hospitals in Malawi and South Africa he was not cured and died on August 31, 2015. Even in death he was still embroiled in controversy. When he was buried at his home in Madisi it was apparent that fellow ministers did not attend in the numbers normally expected at the funeral of a Nkhoma Synod minister.

Sande Mwale remains a controversial figure, greatly admired by some as a visionary leader and spiritual father while others feel that he made trouble in the Synod. The issues that he raised towards the end of his life continue to be decisive ones for the direction of the Synod so in retrospect he appears to many to be a prophetic figure. What is beyond question is that he was a leader of great integrity who served with passion and as a champion of holistic development. He served only two congregations in his twenty-one years of ministerial service but both at Mtuntha and Mziza he had great impact. He was a hard worker and a visionary who could inspire people to achieve their goals. [7] He was a forthright Moderator of Nkhoma Synod and will be remembered as someone who challenged the direction being taken by the Synod in regard to some crucial issues that arose in the early twentieth century.

Alexander A. Phiri


  1. I.T.P. Sande, interview by author, June 12, 2022, Madisi.
  2. Isaac K. Chibowa, interview by author, August 12, 2022, Zomba.
  3. Ibid.
  4. M. Chapita and Mrs M. Sande, interview by author, August 11, 2022, Kasungu.
  5. Ibid.
  6. M.L. Sande, interview by author, June 12, 2022, Madisi.
  7. C. Phiri, interview by author, August 10, 2022, Njombwa, Kasungu.


Chapita, M. and Mrs M. Sande. Interview by author, August 11, 2022, Kasungu.

Chibowa, Isaac K. Interview by author, August 12, 2022, Zomba.

Phiri, C. Interview by author, August 10, 2022, Njombwa, Kasungu.

Sande, I.T.P. Interview by author, June 12, 2022, Madisi.

Sande, M.L. Interview by author, June 12, 2022, Madisi.

This article, submitted in November 2022, was researched and written by Alexander A. Phiri, minister of Mpapa congregation in the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian Nkhoma Synod, under the supervision of Professor Kenneth R. Ross as one of the requirements of the Church History course on the MTh in Contextual Theology at Zomba Theological University.