What is in a name? Du Chisiza Jnr is a name that goes beyond mere words and letters. It commands respect in Malawi’s theatre as its pioneering genius.
Apart from founding Wakhumbata Ensemble Theatre, the first professional theatre company in Malawi, Chisiza Jnr is renowned for over 20 plays he wrote and 25 plays he directed, often playing the lead role himself.
For those who have known Chisiza Jnr and his father Dunduza Chisiza—the veteran nationalist who had been tipped to become the country’s first Finance Minister on independence from Britain in 1964—attest to it that Chisiza Jnr inherited not just a name, but his father’s talents.
“Those of us who had known his father saw in Du Junior a true chip off the old block. We welcomed with appreciation his rising fame in playwriting and acting,” DD Phiri is quoted by The Independent.
Since his death on that fateful February 24 1999, would we say the same about Chisiza Jnr’s children in efforts to preserve the father’s legacy?
It is believed that Du had 14 children, but the ones that are readily traceable are Thlupego, Doreen and Zindaba.
However, it is two of these children, says Thlupego, who have carried on the mantle to continue with the theatre dream, 16 years after the death of the theatre maestro.
“Mostly, it’s me and Zindaba who have made efforts to carry on the theatre mission our father started,” he explains.
Thlupego formed Lions Arts Theatre with the aim of keeping theatre alive in the country.
Ironically, his father’s Wakhumbata Ensemble has been on and off the stage, suffering a major setback following the defection of its core member late Gertrude Kamkwatira who formed her own Wannado Ensemble Theatre.
With his group, Thlupego has written about 32 plays and directed several others for various secondary schools and radio stations.
Notable among them are Zokoto wa Zokora, based on a spate of murders in Ndirande; Semo, a political satire co-written with slain student activist Robert Chasowa which invited handcuffs in 2011; among others.
However, Thlupego admits the dying culture of stage drama in the country which has forced him to venture into movie making.
Presently, he is filming his first movie, Belinda, which he expects to release this month.
“It is almost done. Maybe, this month it should be on the market,” he says.
Belinda tackles issues of a girl child such as property grabbing and forced marriages which impact on their education, health and social life.
Thlupego expects to reap dividends from his talent through movies unlike in stage drama, although piracy is a major tragedy in film industry.
“It takes up to K900 000 to stage a play, but proceeds are minimal because only a handful of people patronise such performances. From now onwards, I will be into movie making and I expect to make more money through sales of the movies’ DVD copies,” he says.
On the other hand, Zindaba, save for the few plays he has written and directed while in school up to last year, he appears to follow his father’s route of pursuing postgraduate studies before forming Wakhumbata in 1987.
Du was a learned man who first became interested in theatre as a secondary school student at the Henry Henderson Institute in Blantyre.
In 1982, he wrote and directed The Deceased’s Attack, which won first prize at the National Schools Drama Festival, according to various reviews on the Internet.
He left for the United States in 1983 for further studies and in 1987 he was awarded a Masters in Fine and Performing Arts at the Philadelphia University of the Performing Arts.
Similarly, Zindaba, a drama lecturer at University of Malawi’s Chancellor College, understands the importance of enriching oneself with knowledge before coming out to the public as a professional theatre guru.
He is currently studying for a doctorate in theatre, HIV and Aids and gender studies at the University of Leeds, according to his profile on Linkedin.
He also has two Masters degrees in theatre and performance studies and international performance research from University of Amsterdam and University of Warwick, respectively.
As to whether he will venture into professional theatre upon his return in 2017, as was the case with his father, only time will tell. n