Covid-19 has shaken the world. With it, here at home, various sectors have been hit hard. Not spared is the arts sector.
But it is the sector that is working its course, in a way, to take awareness to another level.
Sankhani Moyo, a radio and television soap, is one response to the pandemic. It brings to the fore issues surrounding Covid-19.
The episodes are produced by the Applied Development Communications and Training Services (Adecots) in partnership with the Ministry of Health and funding from the Adventist Relief and Development Agency (Adra).
For one, a father (Precious Denja) in the initial episode, chooses not to attend the wedding of his daughter. When his son-in-law ends up in deep debts from loan sharks, it is the father that bails him out, by giving him the opportunity to run one of his grocery shops.
From him come all that counsel about keeping safe. Issues of washing hands with soap regularly, wearing face masks and keeping social distance emanate.
The unique thing about the series is how death is personified. It has its advocates: HIV and Covid-19. Apparently, Death sends the advocates to claim lives. It is perceptible that HIV and Aids is losing the and Covid-19 is becoming a greater threat.
On the other hand, Life gives better hope with tips on keeping safe.
Already, the episodes are gaining acclaim, if comments on some social media platforms are anything to go by. From the feedback we have reviewed so far, it is gaining praise.
Moffat Chimaliro from Makwasa, Thyolo, says: “From watching the episodes, I choose life. Some people in my area think Covid-19 is not real and are not protecting themselves. But on my part, I am trying all I can to protect myself and those around me.”
Another follower, Mphatso Charles from Nathenje in Lilongwe says the series have heightened his pursuit of protection.
“From what I have learned, I am now limiting the number of people I interact with. I am washing my hands more frequently with soap and whenever I go out, I put on a mask,” he says.
Drama academic Smith Likongwe has watched at least one episode. For him, the personification of life and death to bring to reality the havoc the pandemic is raving is a powerful tool.
“It is a good representation. Although at times personification can be misunderstood by some viewers, it presents a powerful voice to bring out the message. And, it works well where such personification is embedded more in action than in words,” said Likongwe in an interview.
He feels drama is a great instrument to bring out serious messages in a light- hearted manner that can be digested by one and all.
It’s as if he took words out of the mouth of National Theatre Association of Malawi (Ntam) president Eric Mabedi and Minister of Tourism, Culture and Wildlife Michael Usi, who made a preliminary appearance in Sankhani Moyo last week, declaring that being in the Cabinet does not signify the death of Manganya.
“Covid-19 is not a joke. Through the drama series, we are bringing out messages on how to prevent the pandemic. It is not just about entertainment,” says Usi.
Usi, featuring as Manganya in the soap that is beamed on MBC TV, Times Television (TTV), and various community and national radios, brought in the initial appearance, the intricancies of masks.
While praising the minister for maintaining his educating role through drama, Mabedi maintains: “Covid-19 is not a joke. The presentation in drama is welcome but people must take the issues raised seriously. It is not just about fun. Artists have a role to play in national development.”
Since the 1980s, Mabedi has been a pillar in Kwathu Drama Group. With restrictions, he says, the last time they appeared on stage was in December last year, which makes episodes like Sankhani Moyo become relevant in spreading the word.
“Radio and TV productions like Sankhani Moyo are bridging the gap in sharing information about the pandemic. The use of community radios is even a greater advantage as people are being reached in their communities and in languages they can understand,” says Mabedi.
Of his role as the good example in Sankhani Moyo, Denja says: “I am happy to be part of this cast which is bringing revention messages to the people. Like George Bernard Shaw [renowned English playwright] said, you have to sugarcoat deep messages in drama for people to digest them better. The most important thing is that I am translating the role I am playing even in real life.”
According to Mercy Simbi, Adecots executive director, five episodes are on the cards, and may be extended.
“At the bottom of the series is that Malawians hold the power to choose between life and death in the face of Covid-19. Through the episodes, we seek to bring out the reality that the onus is on us to stay protected,” she says.