Connie Chiume: The actress with Malawian origins - The Nation Online

Connie Chiume: The actress with Malawian origins

Ever since the film, Black Panther hit the silver screen on February 16 this year, social media has been awash with praise.

Qatar-based Wanthaza Mughogho had this to say: “It’s one of the best superhero movies I have ever watched and that’s not only because it is Afrocentric, but because the storyline is relatable and I can connect it with the past and current world events. It is a game-changer in the blockbuster movie industry as it transcends what has been considered the norm for so long in Hollywood movies.

A proud Salawian: Connie

“Superheroes have been portrayed as coming from a certain demographic only when, in truth, every culture and race have their superheroes. Personally, the movie hit a note for me when I saw someone I have met, our very own Connie Chiume, appearing in more than one scene. That was a proud moment for me.”

Most local movie fans did not know that Black Panther features an actress of Malawian origin—Connie Chiume, 65.

The legendary actress, well-known for her now defunct role Mamokete Khuse in soapie Rhythm City has conspicuous Malawian heritage.

She was born Connie Temweka Gabisile Chiume to Wright Tadeyo Chiume who came from Usisya, Nkhata Bay and a South African mother from KwaZulu-Natal.

“I was born in Welkom, a town in the Free State. Ours was an ordinary family. We were not rich, but my father was a hardworking man. I grew up in Welkom and attended school there. Then, I proceeded to Eastern Cape to do my Metric. That is the time my father decided to go back to Malawi and I remained with some of my elder sisters and mother, who followed my father later.

“I then went to do nursing, which I did not complete and, later, I went to do teaching. By the time I finished school in 1976, I started teaching. That is when the uprisings started in South Africa and things were unstable—there was a big revolution going on. Then, I got an audition and I was a cast. I resigned from teaching and went to Israel where the show was going to perform. So, I performed in Israel and Greece and that was where my arts, culture and film life started,” she said.

Her father died in 1983 in Malawi, but she feels strongly about her Malawian culture, which unfortunately, she was deprived of, having been born in South Africa.

Among her many relations in Malawi is politician-cousin Ephraim Mganda Chiume. As a result of her mixed blood, Connie coined the word Salawian [South African and Malawian], which she proudly calls herself.

“I am a Salawian, one cannot take away that from me,” she affirmed.

The mother of four has been acting since 1977. It is not surprising, therefore, that she is one of the award-winning actresses in the Rainbow Nation. She started her acting journey with theatrical plays such as Ipi Ntombi, Porgy and Bess; and Little shop of Horrors.

Connie with her children

She also acted in a number of feature films including The Air Up There in 1994, Chikin Biznis in 1998, I Dreamed of Africa in 2000 and Country of My Skull in 2004, alongside Holywood actor Samuel L. Jackson.

Connie also featured in a drama series Zone 14 from 2005-2010, for which she won the Golden Horn Award for Best Supporting Actress in a drama  at the third South African Film and Television Awards in 2009.

She believes acting is a calling: “I was a performer and an entertainer at school. I grew up doing all this. Unfortunately, when I started, there were no drama schools. As such, I have never studied art, save for workshops that I have attended along the way,” she said.

Connie with other actresses

When it came to Black Panther, Connie went for auditions with something totally different on her mind, only to learn later that she was in a Hollywood blockbuster.

“I knew I was auditioning for a Hollywood movie called Motherland; until later on when I got the communication that I had been casted for Black Panther movie. Even then, I was not sure about what it was all about because I was associating it with an African-American activist group that used to exist and I don’t even know if it still exists,” she explained.

Connie noted that being on the set of other international movies, such as In My Country and I Dreamed of Africa, was nothing compared to working on the set of Black Panther.

“It’s really an honour to be in that movie. I feel like I have had a chance and opportunity to represent, not just Malawi and South Africa, but the whole continent and all the people in the diaspora. Working in the movie was wonderful. It was like being reunited with brothers and sisters that you have always known because the atmosphere was so good and so professional. It was so intriguing to work with big names such as Angella Basset, and proudly having all the African actors,” she said.

Considered an icon for her work in the South African entertainment industry, Connie plays one of the four elders of Wakanda, the fictional African country overseen by King T’Challa played by Chadwick Boseman, who operates as the eponymous superhero.

Connie has a dream of bringing movie makers to hr paternal home, to tell the interesting Malawian stories.

“I do have a production company, though I have not started doing anything on it as I was busy registering a school of acting and filming. Definitely, Malawi has beautiful stories and I have seen a number of movies from Malawi whose acting is good and natural. If there’s an opportunity, I am ready,” she explained.

Connie is a mother to four children—two biological and two adopted. She got married in 1985 and divorced in 2004.

Her advice to aspiring actresses is simple: “Come into the industry if you know that this is really the talent that God has given you. Acting can be a difficult profession because you are always freelancing. You do not have a permanent job. We work in projects and if the film is finished, you have to look for another one. The same if you are doing a television series. But I would encourage you that if you really love it and if it’s your passion then go to school to create your own job if there are no jobs or auditions. But it should be your passion, don’t go into it just because you want to appear on television or you just want to be famous”.

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