Esmie Pangani: the woman behind Gogo Nasibeko

For radio play fans in Malawi, Gogo Nasibeko is no new name. For 11 years, her soft voice, projected in a Lhomwe accent in Zimachitika play, caught the ears of many but there is more to this woman than her acting. She is a teacher and chairperson of the women’s guild. How does she juggle her time and get everything done? Mwereti Kanjo finds out.

Tell me a bit about your early life.

I was born in 1966 at Mulanje Mission Hospital [in southern Malawi]. I grew up in Thyolo where my father was working. Then we moved to Mulanje where I studied at Providence Primary School up until Standard 7. I did my Standard 8 at Chileka  [in Malawi’s commercial city, Blantye] from where I was selected to Providence Secondary School.

I got 27 points during my MSCE [Malawi Schools Certificate of Education] but you know it was not easy to get selected into the University of Malawi then. As a result, I studied Education at St Joseph Teachers College. Surprisingly, I was posted to my primary school, Providence where I taught for three years. During this time, I was still Nee Pinifolo and then I met my husband Mr. Pangani. We got married and moved to Blantyre. I first taught at St Pius Primary School, there after I came here, Chimwankhunda primary school where I have taught for several years.

Is teaching something that you always wanted to do?

No, it was my father’s idea. I was still very young and went along with everything my parents suggested. I have grown to love teaching though and can never ever imagine leaving it for something else. I feel teaching is the basis of everything that I do. I am a councillor on radio and a chairperson of the women’s guild, all of which I do so well because of my teaching background.

You play Gogo Nasibeko in the radio play Zimachitika since 1999. How did this happen?

Story workshop advertised vacancies in their Zimachitika play and I decided to take my chances. I went for auditions and I managed to impress the producer, then Marvin Hanke. I was asked to speak like an old woman. At first, it was challenging but I got the hang of it. I decided that if I wanted to put up a convincing act, I ought to speak with a Lhomwe accent because it is where I come from. Hanke was pleased even more and it has been a part of me for 11 years now.

Why did you go for the auditions? Have you always been in acting?

I used to play different roles as a child in Sunday school, primary school and secondary school. I almost always won an award for being the best actress but as I grew up, I became a little shy and stopped acting. So, when I saw that advert, I went for it.

What was your first day in acting like?

I was nervous but I went for it. It was difficult and I had to be creative enough to hold my role and voice without diverting. By and by, I got so used to it that now it comes naturally. Sometimes, I get into character when I am teaching just to give my students a laugh.

Who is Gogo Nasibeko?

Zimachitika is based in Mbonekera Village and Gogo Nasibeko is the only elderly character left in the village. She is also the Chief’s right-hand person. Her role is to share words of wisdom with the young ones and she mainly does this through folk tales. She has her own children, Nachaza and Chithope with a bunch of grandchildren. The idea of counselling through folk tales allows the children to relate with characters in the tales and decide how best to resolve their problems. It is a play full of lessons and wisdom that is designed to entertain and teach people at the same time.

How do you separate yourself from your character, Gogo Nasibeko?

Well, at first it was quite challenging but I must say our God is a God of order. He directs me on how to behave in different situations. It is a blessing that he never leaves me alone. With his guidance, I am able to set clear boundaries between the character I play and the person that I am.

You are a member of the women’s guild, actor, mother, wife and teacher. How do you divide your time?

In the beginning, making time for everything was a challenge. I thank God that my husband understands and as I already said, our God is a God of order. He has managed to show me how best I can make everything work. Between Monday and Friday, my head teacher expects me to hand in my lesson plans and schemes of work which I do. On Saturday morning, I first attend the women’s guild meeting and as soon as we finish around nine, I rush to the studios for recording. When I knock off from work, the evening is for my children and husband. When he is coming home from work, he must know that there is a woman there to take good care of him.

Does your character help you  understand this generation better?

Children in this generation do not want to listen to their parents, unlike during  our time when what parents had to say was wisdom beyond any other.

You mention of teaching children through folktales; do you do the same with your children?

I try but it’s difficult to sit them down and make them listen to my tales. I feel that if they were burnt on compact discs and played to them, then maybe they would take the messages seriously because they would not see me. However, as a mother, I am able to control my children. Just like other children, they will listen one day and brush me off the next. They are great kids though.

What do they make of your celebrity status?

When they were younger, they would come home complaining that friends were calling them Gogo Nasibeko. Now that they are older, they have accepted it and are proud of the fact that I play this role.

What makes you different from other actors?

I am different in the sense that I am the biggest counsellor of them all. Most of them do it for the fun of it and for the money, but I have a passion for what I do. What I say on that radio goes far, MBC is covered everywhere so I speak to a lot of people.

What sort of impact do you think you have made?

I think the play and I have made a difference in the lives of many. We started with farming and during those years, Malawians did  well in harvest and continue to do the same. Thereafter, we began to tackle issues of HIV and Aids and we have brought the message of the pandemic into people’s homes.

You seem to have taught the lower classes for a long. Is there a special reason for this?

Well that used to be the case but now I am teaching the senior classes. I love little kids because it is easier to shape them into better citizens. Pupils in senior classes feel they know everything and they don’t want to be told what to do. Sometimes they are downright rude. However, my head teacher feels I am better suited for the senior classes so I have to do the best I can with the older pupils.

What is it about your upbringing that has made you into the woman you are today?

I am from Mulanje, Roben Village T/A Chikumbu. In my family, there were six of us but we lost one sibling, so now there are five of us. Growing up in a family like that, we shared a lot and learnt from each other. But most importantly, my parents always taught  us that peace was very important. They always taught us not to disappoint others and keep in mind other people’s feelings. When there is someone out there losing sleep because of you, things will not work out for you. I know I am only human and that I make mistakes but I try to maintain a peaceful existence.

What do you do in your free time?

I love to listen to music. As a child I loved reggae. I also listen to gospel music to uplift my soul.

What would be the best Christmas present for you this year?

I would love it if some well wishers came forth to help me burn these folk tales on disc so that parents and children can listen to them in their homes. You will be surprised the impact that they have had. I just want to promote the culture of telling tales like we used with our parents.

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