By Chifundo ZINGUNDE.
When she made her maiden high level officiation during a top flight league match between Silver Strikers, and Mafco Fc way back in 2004, many had doubts of her capabilities.
But 13 years down the line, Bernaddettar Kwimbira-Mzika is now a force to reckon with not only in the country’s top flight league, but also internationally; she is a FIFA recognized assistant referee.
And if that is not a convincing testimony, her exploits in this year’s Airtel Top 8 bonanza, left many in awe, admiring the genius that is in Bernadettar.
Her genesis into this otherwise ‘masculine’ world developed during her secondary school era.
“Back then, I was a complete athlete. I was an athlet, and I was also a netballer. That aside, I was always intrigued by soccer. I used to watch soccer a lot,” she recalls.
The journey to refereeing
For those who have known Kwimbira inside out, she is a risk taker. She likes taking challenges. One such risks was 17 years ago when she decided to be recruited with the Malawi Defense Forces. What was more intriguing was that she was amongst the very first female cohort to join the forces who were based at Kamuzu Barracks in Lilongwe then.
Such a service did not deter the ambitious Kwimbira from pursuing her endeavors in the athletic world. Once in a while, she could watch football matches in various stadia in the city. The more she patronized the gentleman’s game, the thicker her passion grew. And when the said passion overflowed, there was one option, and only one option she followed.
According to Bernadettar, being a referee was her option since she could seldom play football.
“I was so much interested with what the referees were doing, coming up with decisions whenever there was a foul. I knew I couldn’t play football but as an athlete, I could run for 90 minutes and at least I could afford to enforce the Laws of the game as referees do. So, to me, refereeing was my only option,” she reveals.
So, it was such an interest that in the very same year she had joined the armed forces, that Kwimbira expressed serious interest in joining the ‘men in black’. Coincidentally, in the same year, she attended a Football Association of Malawi’s (FAM) basic refereeing course where she was awarded a Grade 3 certificate.
Since then, her rising to stardom has been too visible to miss. Kwimbira has dominated the usually male-dominated field. Her track records are self-explanatory. To all doubting Thomases, Bernadettar was amongst the entourage that officiated during Rio 2016 Olympic Football Tournament, making her the second Malawian after Bester Kalombo to officiate at a similar tourney (at Los Angels Olympics) 32 years ago.
And that was not all; her Olympic feat appointment came back-to-back with her world cup appearance. But her taking part as one of the match officials for Canada 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup becoming the first and only Malawian to officiate at a FIFA World Cup, proved the she is in a class of her own.
And she knows it!
“Being a woman on top of my game in a male dominated field is something special, something so unique. Rio 2016, and World cup 2015, still stand out as twilights in my refereeing career right now. I just thank God for His grace that things are the way they are for me today,”. Says the exhilarated Kwimbira.
Various soccer pundits have also showered praises on the exploits of this enigmatic lady in black. Andrew Nyumba, a Blantyre-based soccer analyst has nothing but goodies to say about Kwimbira.
“She is brave and direct with great intelligent quotient. She is such a rare phenomenon to have ever graced our soccer pitches,” he says.
According to Kwimbira, Malawian Football Officiation is hectic courtesy of laughable peanuts of wages and a bunch of insults after matches.
“It’s Hectic! It’s like a business without profit. Our capital is the time and effort we put into refereeing, but what we get are insults and peanut as match allowances” worried she
To her, impossible is nothing. Berna believes women in Malawi have the same potential as their male counterparts and she advises the former not to look down upon themselves.
“Work hard girls, nothing is impossible. What a man can do, a woman can do better. I have set the pace, you can do it better. Remember hard work, dedication, humbleness and discipline can take you to the top and nothing else. And always remember to put God first in everything. I will be a happiest person to see another Malawian referee in FIFA Elite A”. Said Kwimbira.
You’ve never watched a soccer match until you witness the exploits of officiation by the country’s rare officiating gem, Bernadettar Kwimbira-Mzika.