A tailor who sewed for Mama Kadzamira


Malawi’s founding president, the late Hastings Kamuzu Banda, was known for his dainty black suits which exposed a snow-white shirt.

He was an impeccable dresser and his cultured, decent dressing rubbed off on all his government officials, including Official Hostess Mama Cecilia Tamanda Kadzamira.

For Kadzamira, it was a matter of fact that she would have to be at her best in terms of dressing because in her capacity as official hostess for Kamuzu, it meant she was the one tasked with welcoming the late president’s personal and official guests at state residences.


She accompanied the president on his errands within and outside the country. It was, therefore, imperative that she dressed to the taste of her boss.

Thus, Kadzamira became known for clothes tailored to fit. And the man whose hands made some of those outfits is a resident of Chilobwe Township in Blantyre.

Robert Kamphandira Chirwa was born in 1935 at Kachulu Village in Chief Kanyenda’s area in Nkhotakota.


He was one of Kadzamira’s tailors between 1976 and 1989 but he was not based at any of the state residences then.

“Mama used to call me or would send her driver for me to go to collect material to sew at my Room Number 9 Shop at Blantyre Market where I had seven tailors and 14 assistants. The material would be imported or bought locally,” says Chirwa who was one of the first few Malawians to be offered a room at the market when it was officially opened by Kamuzu in 1972.

Chirwa learnt his tailoring skills in South Africa where he had gone to work.

He later travelled to Zimbabwe and then Zambia where he also practised the tailoring trade for 14 years until 1970 when he returned home to set up a tailoring business.

Chirwa says he can design clothes but for Mama he did the designs according to the way she wanted them done and she was usually satisfied with his work.

He says Kadzamira spotted him through John Kadzamira’s daughter who was then working with the National Bank of Malawi, Victoria Avenue Branch.

The daughter had a friend at work for who Chirwa had sewn an outfit that impressed.

That work was to earn Chirwa a high-profile client in the name of Mama Kadzamira.

So, how would Chirwa go about taking measurements for the most respected lady in the land at the time?

“Mama was always cooperative. She would follow my instructions and I would take her measurements like I did with any other customer,” he says.

Chirwa cannot remember how many pieces he made for Mama because they were too many. But he remembers that he was paid promptly for each piece of work he did.

“Sometimes she would simply dip into her purse and give me money without counting it. At no time did she pay less. At times she would give me more than I charged her; sometimes three times more,” he says.

He also recalls having sewed clothes for the bereaved family and other mourners when Kamuzu Banda lost his sister, Jenala Nabanda.

Apart from sewing for international state house visitors, Chirwa also produced outfits for spouses of such cabinet ministers as Aleke Banda, Gwanda Chakuamba, late Kapichira Banda and John Tembo.

Chirwa retired from his tailoring business in 2004.

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