One surely cannot talk about theatre in Malawi without mentioning the name Du Chisiza Jr.
Du Chisiza Jr’s magic in theatre will never be forgotten in the country and it is unfortunate that he is not celebrated.
The creator of Wakhumbata Ensemble Theatre (Wet) greatly lifted theatre during his time and was on top of the game, placing theatre at par with soccer.
But today, Wet is nowhere in sight. The group simply died a natural death, although some members such as Khumbo Bazuka Mhango think otherwise, insisting it is still inexistence.
It might exist but it has done nothing and there is simply nothing to show and – we can actually conclude that they have failed to continue the journey that Du started.
Du’s Wet slogan of “As the journey continues” is nowhere near continuation.
There was a continuation in the early days when the late Gertrude Kamkwatira, better known as the theatre darling, took over Wet before she later created her own group, Wanna Do Ensemble Theatre (Wet).
Wanna Do, a force to reckon with, also sparkled during Kamkwatira’s time and went on to produce several top productions.
But the group is also not active any more despite the remnants promising to continue the journey that Kamkwatira started.
Today, there are so many changes in theatre; theatre no longer attracts huge audiences as was the case in the past, save for a few outfits such as Kwathu Drama Group.
But with all that said, February will always be a special month and apart from Valentine’s Day when people show love to each other, it is a month that Malawi lost Du Chisiza Jr.
In his column Waliko on Art Beat of February 9-11 2018, ethno-musician Waliko Makhala wrote that the month of February reminds him of the gallant theatre maestro, described by some critics as Malawi’s theatre genius.
“Some of us fondly called him Chanyara or Subwenu. He had character. He had the presence of the mind. He had passion for the creative industries and martial arts,” Makhala wrote in his column.
Makhala said Du’s journey was not only of forging a theatrical future but of consciousness.
“Du wanted us to look beyond theatre. Du wanted to articulate the people’s aspirations and dreams in a free and democratic society,” Makhala, who starred with Du, said.
Several other players have come out to talk about tributes for Du Chisiza but according to his son, Thlupego, they have not done enough to celebrate his life.
“It’s now 19 years since my father’s demise. To others he might be forgotten but to me he will live on. I know we have not done enough to celebrate his life and to continue the theatrical journey he left but I will continue to do something within the little resources I have,” Thlupego said.
Thlupego, has starred in several plays and teamed up with other groups starring with, among others, Nanzikambe Arts, but also his Lions Theatre.
He said this year he has decided to come up with a tribute to his father.
“This is a tribute to my father and through this play, I want to show him that your son is still in theatre and is continuing the journey he left,” he said.
The actor, who was once arrested for staging a play without consent from Censorship Board, said he is out with a tribute play titled What Lies Ahead.
He described What Lies Ahead as a serious play that he claims to have created after observing what the country was going through at the moment.
“It’s a serious play, I am ready and this play is a tribute to my father. It is for my father. We are currently doing rehearsals. Again as Lions Theatre, we have been silent so this is a comeback,” Thlupego said.
The actor, who has been vibrant in theatre and has recently been touring with Misheck Mzumara with an adaptation play titled Sizwe Bansi Is Dead, explained that What Lies Ahead is a play whose title is based on his grandfather’s book Africa What Lies Ahead.
“Africa What Lies Ahead was written by my grandfather and so in my adaptation I am tackling issues happening in the country. Some people might think it’s a political play but it’s not,” he said.
He said this was a play by Lions Theatre.
“It pains me that there is nothing coming out of Wakhumbata, a group that was on top of theatre not only in Malawi but in Africa and today, this name cannot be heard anymore. My father wherever he is surely is not happy with this and that is why I thought I should do something,” Thlupego said.
The play, according to him, will be staged at HS Winehouse in Blantyre on March 2 and that with resources permitting; they will take it to other places.
“We could have done it on February 24 but things could not work out. So we shifted it to March 2. We are ready and as I said earlier, What Lies Ahead is for my father,” he said.
Thlupego indicated that the play has a cast of six.
“There is me, Chicco Makina, Allison Mpunga, Silvia Khololo, Funny Pangani and Zinenani Magola.
Born on March 26 1963, Du died on February 24 1999.
He was a playwright, director and actor and founder of Wet, the first professional theatre company in Malawi.
Du wrote more than 20 plays and was involved in the writing and directing of some 25 others.
A prominent son of activist Dunduzu Chisiza, many of Du’s plays had a political and human rights message during the one party regime.
According to available information, Chisiza became interested in drama at the Henry Henderson Institute (HHI) in Blantyre as a student.
He wrote and directed The Deceased’s Attack, which won first prize at the National Schools Drama Festival in 1982.
Du later moved to USA and was awarded a degree in Performing Arts at the Philadelphia College of Performing Arts. He also became a martial arts enthusiast, obtaining a black belt and becoming an instructor at the Philadelphia Arts Centre. He returned to Malawi soon after graduation.
Other plays he wrote include Tatuya Futi which was a tribute to his uncle Yatuta Chisiza, Papa’s Empire, Phumashakire, De Summer Blow, Sir Daniels, Storm On Litada, Operation Tidy, Kabuha Tragedy, Mitsidi Burning, Black Cross, Black Blawizo, and Democracy Boulevard.