Good people, the Department of Culture has appallingly left Blantyre Cultural Centre (BCC) in a state of decay-dwarfing its potential to generate millions every week.
The unforgettable entertainment Mecca, which feted fun-starved pilgrims with finest acts from both within and abroad, cries for maintenance and care. The slumbering giant is falling apart.
However, its slow, but sure decline is not a new story in a country where it is easier to run down multimillion kwacha infrastructure than to maintain it as soon as cracks appear.
Scores of people recently gathered at BCC to watch Nkhokwe Arts’ environmental play, Mapiri ndi Moyo, which highlights the centrality of Mount Mulanje to communities at its foot of and the country’s tourism sector which is struggling to replace tobacco as the highest foreign exchange earner. Based on fact-finding trips to the mountain and surrounding villages also exposes how corruption, impunity and neglect left elites plunderers-colonial governors, post-independent government officials, ruling party executives and their wealthy allies in shady business-wiping out millions of Mulanje cedar as watchers looked on.
Nkhokwe’s flashbacks of axes and chainsaws sending trees clashing to the ground only come short of naming the wealthy and powerful thieves who turned poor locals into illegal loggers in a fast-forward scramble for the national tree only found on the protected mountain where only one or two cedars still stand.
Thumbs up to the ex-prisoners’ group for shaming the dishonourable thieves, destroyers and bandits wallowing scot-free with ill-gotten money while the poor convicted of petty offences rot in prison.
The vanishing of the country’s flagship cedar on forest patrollers’ watch illustrates the intensity and extensity of destructions happening while those salaried to stop the mess either snore on the job or become accomplices.
This tale replicates itself at the venue where Malawians once marvelled mesmeric world-class acts, including our own fallen theatre darling Du Chisiza Junior, Zimbabwean mbira music supremacist Oliver Mtukudzi, Central Africa’s jazzy Bibi Tanga and the Selenites as well as Senegalese star musician-cum-actor Ismael Lo.
If the good ole French returned to the property Malawi Government acquired at K300 million in 2012, they would no doubt weep in disbelief. How their legacy has been torn apart by flourishing State-sponsored neglect!
In its pub wisdom, the Department of Culture has just draped the walls of the hugely ransacked multipurpose arthouse in a bright orange paint to paper the cracks.
But the blinding smear does not deceive any eye from seeing the broken windows, shattered floor and falling ceilings that have become the norm since government shelled the millions to the good ole French who regularly repaired the venue.
The rot is loud and clear at the iconic grass-thatched theatre where dramatists and musicians perform at their own risk every weekend.
Leaning against a wooden pole in the cracked concrete terraces while watching Nkhokwe’s play, the soundtrack of the rot underway at BCC was deafening in the rattling sounds of termites and other borers gnashing the interiors of the highly weeviled pillars supporting the heavy thatch which has never been replaced since the takeover.
The dilapidated roofing appears likely to fall on both performers and their audiences sooner than the brains at the Department of Culture realise that no piece of grass lasts forever and come forward to replace the thatch.
A former manager of the venue tells us the French folks weep and regret selling when they get photographs of the treasure they sold for a song to a government that cannot swiftly repair a pothole on a vital trade route.
Government admittedly requires billions to repair long neglected potholes on the four-year-old Karonga-Chitipa Road.
Redeeming the BCC will require a fair bailout, for the bullishly bright paint fools no one. It shines a light on deceptive ways of a negligent government. n