Music + Arts

Ceciwa Khonje

Journalist, Diplomat (b. 1938)

Ceciwa Khonje (nee Bwanausi), my mother, is a member of the Yao royal family and was born in 1938 in Malawi; she is a lifelong Presbyterian.

Growing up under British colonial rule, Ceciwa was trained as a journalist and broadcaster by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) in the United Kingdom. She became Malawi’s first female broadcaster. Ceciwa always championed equal rights, as noted in her insistence that healthcare not be segregated during colonial times. When Malawi gained its independence (after a struggle she participated in), she received Prince Philip at the airport and reported on his activities as the representative of the British royal family.

Our family became political refugees in 1964 and sought asylum in Zambia. Mum continued her work as a broadcaster and produced, directed and presented radio and television news and documentaries for Zambia Broadcasting Services. She interviewed dignitaries, including President Kenneth Kaunda; her programs addressed issues such as the freedom struggle in Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), South Africa, Mozambique and Angola. Mum and our late father, Shadrack Khonje, became foster parents to care for the children of freedom fighters.

Ceciwa left Zambia Broadcasting Service and joined Multimedia Zambia, a faith-based broadcasting corporation. Her program Encounter presented interviews with religious figures, such as the Rev. Canon Burgess Carr, who was the Secretary General of the All Africa Conference of Churches and moderated the Addis Ababa Agreement that ended the first Sudanese Civil War (1955-1972). Ceciwa produced documentary films for various international agencies, including the United Nations. Her films documented the lives of the Basarwa people (commonly known as the Bushmen of the Kalahari Desert) and the miners in Zambia’s Copperbelt. Her freelance work was for the BBC and Deutsche Welle, the German World Service, before she took the post of chief of the Africa section with Radio Nederland Wereldomroep, the Dutch World Service in Hilversum, The Netherlands. In 1983 Ceciwa was recruited to serve as director of the Africa desk of the United Nations Information Services in New York.

Our grandparents learned four new languages in exile so that they could continue to serve as Elders and preach when there was no pastor. Grandma always told our mother that we would never feel settled anywhere until we found a church home. As we moved from Zambia to the Netherlands and finally to the U.S., Mum always found a church for us to attend; in New York, it was Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church. Mum served as an Elder, and my sister, brother and I have all served as Deacons, volunteered with the homeless ministry and been involved in mission work.

When Ceciwa joined the diplomatic corps of the United Nations, her mission took her to Nigeria and Zimbabwe. She retired in 1999 and moved to Pretoria, South Africa, where she discovered a God-given talent for designing jewelry using the country’s natural resources of gold, diamonds and ostrich leather. She is now exploring the possibilities of a U.S. market for Khonje Designs Jewellery.

About the Writer

Cheni Khonje was just 28 days old when her family fled Malawi as refugees. The Khonje family have been members of Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church since 1985. Cheni has been a Minister of Word and Sacrament with the Presbyterian Church (USA) since 2010. She graduated from United Lutheran Seminary in May 2018 with a doctor of ministry degree.