It was little wonder when news broke out that Kwimbira had been selected as one of the African female referees for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; but a somewhat reluctant smile, playing across her lips, was all that she could give as a hint of joy.
“It’s also something special, more especially when it is coming back-to-back after the World Cup appearance. It is a once-in-a-life-time opportunity. I thank God for making it happen. I did not expect it. There are many of us in the CAF Elite ‘A’ category, and it is not easy to be selected for such a tournament.”
With a childlike passion, she explains her meteoric rise to the refereeing summit and one gets a feeling that the tall and slim mother of two, who sprints like Jamaican Usain Bolt on the touchline, was always destined for greatness.
“Of course, I wanted to get far with officiating, but there was not even a single moment when I imagined myself officiating at the FIFA Women’s World Cup or Olympics. By the Grace of God, here I am today,” she added amidst affirming her strong faith in the Supreme Being.
Breaking new grounds is something she is used to. A decade ago, she made Malawian history by being among the first batch of females to be enlisted into the Malawi Defence Force.
From his retirement home in the Blantyre suburb of Sunnyside, Kalombo is not envious that the thoughtful young lady will surpass his refereeing exploits that saw him becoming the first from the Southern African country to participate at the Africa Cup of Nations, 1982 in Libya.
“She (Kwimbira) is a very good referee. It is not surprising that she is achieving great things in her career as refereeing also goes hand-in-hand with sound education background,” Kalombo said about the lady who works at the University of Malawi office in the ancient capital, Zomba.
Beginning of a career
“In Secondary School, I joined Sobo Athletics Club and was competing in 100m and 200m. I was also netball team. In 2000, I joined the Malawi Defense Force (MDF) as one of the very first female soldiers,” she recollects her journey.
“I continued with athletics while in the Army. Also, I had a passion for football. At weekends, if I’m not at Civo Stadium in Lilongwe, then I was either at Silver Stadium or Nankhaka Ground to watch a football match. In 2002, I approached Mr. Youngson Chilinda who was then a FIFA referee and expressed my ambitions. The same year, Football Association of Malawi (FAM) organized a basic referee’s course in Kasungu. I passed and was awarded a Grade 3 certificate.”
Looking back, Kwimbira has no regrets picking up the profession that has about 10 top referees in Malawi.
Not that it has all been rosy for her, but she has an ability to tackle challenges head-on.
Having eventually left the army, she cites juggling parenthood, office work and refereeing as a tough balancing act.
“The football fraternity does forget that referees are humans too. They don’t know what one goes through to become a referee. They don’t know the training and fitness tests we go through in the cold and rain or in the scorching sun. People don’t know of the headaches we suffer when the Match Assessor rates you low when you have put your 101 per cent in a match. We have been verbally and physically abused. More especially for a woman like me, it’s not easy. You really have to be strong to endure it all and continue to make a distinction despite all the hardships”.
That she has endured all these years when most of her peers have succumbed to the demands of rigorous fitness regime, is also partly due to the years she spent in the army.
“Being at the elite level provides many challenges with balancing refereeing, family, work and a social life. Over the years, you make many sacrifices to be at the elite level and remain committed to refereeing. At times, it isn’t also possible to do it all. It’s tougher especially for a woman like me, but with proper planning; I have managed to get the three going and making sure that one part doesn’t suffer much.
“I have been fortunate to have had plenty of support throughout my career which has enabled me to dedicate so much time to what I enjoy. I always put my family first though,” said the lady who is married to a soldier.
“As a fully-trained combat soldier of Malawi Defence Force that I was, I think has really helped me to have that thick skin to handle high-profile games without fear or favour be it in the Super League or Cup final matches where fans are notorious for showering insults.”
She gives huge credit to her mother, Angella Kwimbira, for shouldering the weight of responsibility after the death of her father in 1989.
“Here is a woman who single-handedly took care of four children when I was only seven. She was a secretary in the Public Sector. Life was tough but she made sure we were educated. She has always been there for me, and till today she keeps encouraging me to keep working hard in whatever I do in life including refereeing. Here I am…!! If you ask me, I would say it goes without question that she is my heroine.”
Zambian Gladys Lengwe is the central referee, with Kwimbira and Oulhaj Souad as her assistants.