April 5, 2009
'At last I can be part of Mercy’s life,' says her father
By BARBARA JONES
4th April 2009
This is the first picture of Mercy’s father, after he was tracked down
yesterday by The Mail on Sunday . . . and said he was looking forward
to being part of her life.
He is James Kambewa, 24, who fled in disgrace after Mercy’s mother
Mwandida, who was a 15-year-old schoolgirl at the time, fell
Mwandida died eight days after giving birth. James has never been seen
in the family’s home village of Thwonde in southern Malawi since the
outcry and until yesterday he had no idea that a wealthy pop star was
planning to adopt Mercy, whom he has never seen.
James, who has a casual job as a night watchman, told The Mail on
Sunday: ‘I am longing to hear more about Mercy. I was never allowed to
see her and now I am determined to make up for that.
‘Her family was very angry with me when Mwandida became pregnant. My
own relatives advised me to leave town. It was a big scandal – both of
‘Now I hear that my little girl will be famous, and best of all I can
form some bond with her at last.’
James, who lives in a one-room hut with two male friends in a poor
area of the nearby city, added: ‘I need to think about what all this
means. I need to try and make sense of it.’
As Madonna prepared for an emotional farewell to Mercy yesterday at
the luxury Kumbali Lodge in Lilongwe, the girl’s family told how they
were also looking forward to her return to Thwonde.
Mercy’s 70-year-old grandmother said she believed it was God’s will
that the High Court had ruled against Madonna’s adoption.
Lucy Chekechiwa said: ‘I accept whatever God has prepared for us. She
can start primary school and be part of our family again.’
First Mercy must go back to the Kondanini orphanage, where she will
stay until she is six, when she is expected to have developed
resistance to the fatal childhood diseases such as malaria that are
endemic in Malawi.
Yesterday in Thwonde, friends and neighbours stood round the yard of
Mercy’s family’s simple one-storey home. The mud-built dwelling with
its thatched roof is at the centre of a noisy vibrant settlement
behind the vegetable market.
The full story of the tragedy of Mwandida and James and how Mercy
ended up in an orphanage for wet-nursing was revealed yesterday by
Mwandida’s best friend, Agatha Molande.
Close to tears, she described how last week she enrolled for
university and how she wished Mwandida had been with her.
She said: ‘When I first met her she came to school in bare feet and
ragged clothes but she was top of the class, top of the school.
‘She was clever at every subject, and that’s how she got a government
grant to go on with her education.
‘A girl like her would normally have to stay at home and work for the
family, washing clothes and looking after the babies.
‘But she went on to secondary school with me and we became room-mates.
She was like a sister to me and we shared all our secrets.
Mercy must go back to the orphanage where she will stay until she is
‘She told me one day she had met a nice boy. He had left school and
was looking for work. We are not allowed boyfriends and Malawi society
is very strict about it. But Mwandida fell in love with James. He gave
her a key to his family’s house and they met there when everyone was
In Malawi, parents are strict about their daughters’ sexual morality.
While girls and boys are allowed to go out together in a group, to
coffee houses and the cinema, there is no question of a teenage girl
being singled out by one boyfriend.
Agatha was shocked when she discovered her best friend was pregnant.
She said: ‘She kept saying no, it isn’t true, it isn’t true,
whispering to me as we slept close together in the school dorm. I told
her, “Look at yourself Mwandida. You’re going to have a baby.”
We were both terrified of telling our mothers.’
Mwandida, who came from a hard-working illiterate family who made
their living selling tomatoes in the market, had planned to one day
work in her community as a nurse or midwife.
But she was taken out of school and hidden away by her family.
She was in disgrace, sent off to dig the vegetable garden and
forbidden to see friends.
She saw no doctor or midwife and it was her mother who delivered her
baby in January 2005.
She became ill and the community believed that she had been bewitched,
Eight days later Mwandida died and her last words to her mother were:
‘The devils are eating me.’
Agatha still weeps over the loss of her friend, but is looking forward
to Mercy’s return.
She said: ‘Mwandida was special, and her daughter Mercy is special,
too. It will be good to have her back with us.’