What connection is there between the coronavirus, lecturing and entertainment provided by innovative and crowd-pulling pumpkin vendors plying their trade in some residential areas in Lilongwe?
There is a solid connection, if two youngmen, Yudas Basikiti, 23 and Thauzeni Zulu, 27, are thrust into the equation.
The young men have found a creative way of mimicking popular Timveni Radio sports reporter Innocent ‘Namacheni’ Chitimbe in covering a football match in Malawi or in the English Premier League (EPL).
Basikiti is an impressive ‘clone’ of Chitimbe, complete with matching rapid-fire soccer commentary ability, attention to detail and his lilting intonation in Chichewa.
The coverage spices up the two young men’s drudgery of pushing their bicycles, side-by-side, in streets and avenues in Areas 49, 47 and 18 in Lilongwe as they aim to sell all of their pumpkins in baskets strapped on their machines.
Merely shouting verbal alerts to would-be customers in houses of pumpkins on sale has been a difficult and almost fruitless task among other vendors in the trade.
But that is not the case with Basikiti and Zulu. As the two ply the streets, Basikiti bellows out a radio-like commentary of a match, usually of the EPL type. Those hearing and seeing him at it will think Timveni Radio is covering a special and interesting game.
When he drives on to a crescendo, in describing a near-scoring incident, Basikiti will lament a missed opportunity and invite Zulu to give a commercial-break message. That’s when the colleague will chime in: “Maungu [pumpkins for sale], maungu, maungu…!”
Once people hear the two young men at it in their neighbourhood, they flock out of their homes to marvel at the special art, even to reward it in by buying the pumpkins without seeking discounts.
“Most people take photos and video clips as we pass through their areas. But, we must admit, they also love buying our pumpkins and we make quick sales and our stuff is bought out within an hour or two,” chuckles Basikiti.
He adds that with the current coronavirus pandemic that has, cumulatively, killed thousands in countries such as China, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom, and it is emerging in Africa, they have now incorporated civic education messages on preventative measures to avoid contracting the virus.
“We are lucky, so far, that Malawi was spared the corona disease until several days ago, when the first cases were acknowledged. In between our street beats and the popular football commentary slots, I chip in to tell the people basic health and hygiene information like washing their hands with soap, social distancing and contacting health authorities whenever they experience tell-tale symptoms like coughing, a high fever and a shortness of breath,” Zulu states.
He admits that he could do more effective civic education if authorities and experts could empower him and his
colleague with more concrete messaging and travel and communication tools, including a loud hailer.
The Nation spent three days recently in trying to trace the two youngmen, who both had no cellphones then and come from the remote Chikhuthe Village in Traditional Authority Njewa’s area. However, their video clips have populated social media forums lately and Basikiti has proved to be a talented gem by also mimicking political leaders, in stand-up shows on request, for him to provide entertainment at political meetings.
Gershom Stephano Banda, a teacher and a resident of Area 49 in Lilongwe, took two clips of the duo when plying the streets in the area recently.
“The boys are simply impressive and entertaining. I am happy and proud that the clips I shared on social media forums have exposed the boys much more, to the point that one well-wisher bought and donated a cellphone to each one of them,” he states.
Basikiti says the new cellphone is the biggest gift he has ever received from a well-wisher. He explains that he has been showered with banknotes people amazed at his ability to name all players, and the positions they play, in the major teams in the EPL.
“I am very grateful to God for giving me a sharp memory which includes memorising players’ names and their transfer details once I hear Chitimbe mentioning these during his Timveni Radio soccer commentaries.
“Of course, I salute Chitimbe for motivating me to provide the football commentaries, which have enabled me to extend my talent to stand-up commentaries in the political field. I have come to realise that with this talent, I can go far,” Basikiti declared when he visited Timveni Radio offices.
When he came face to face with his Timveni Radio inspirer last week, Basikiti could not hide his excitement. The two smiled at each other and only their joint awareness of the coronavirus counter-measures prevented them from shaking hands profusely or hugging.
Chitimbe, who was meeting Basikiti for the first time after having learnt that he was his long-time admirer, said: “It is good that when we do our work well as professionals, we unknowingly inspire other people. It’s an honour for me to meet this young man and I hope he turns out to become a radio personality in future.”
But it will take a miracle for Basikiti to make it as an employee in a broadcasting house, given his limited Standard Six education. He was kicked out of Mzumazi Primary School in 2011, when he was in Standard Five, after he beat up a bully who attacked his relative.
Basikiti then turned to running small businesses, including selling pumpkins, fresh maize and providing clients with tobacco leaf manure for their offices or homes. The young man’s father, Fushen Basikiti, is a veteran in the manure-provision business.
Basikiti and Zulu decided to jointly go into pumpkins selling over a year ago. They both come from the same village and are happy that their innovativeness in the business has improved their lives.
However, Basikiti, who recently married Nastazia, regrets having not continued with his education. “I wish I could have the capacity to save up to sponsor my own education, particularly if political parties or people who request us to entertain them offered us contracts and good payments. Regrettably, so far, we are given next to nothing for the shows,” he laments.
When he was told about the initiatives by Basikiti and Zulu in promoting civic education on preventing the spread of coronavirus, Ministry of Health and Population spokesperson Joshua Malango commended the duo.
“We appreciate what the two young men are doing and we encourage them to continue their great work. On the fight against corona and any other public health diseases, the ministry invites other partners to ensure that Malawians enjoy good health