Professor Muzipasi Shumba, who introduced drama studies at the University of Malawi (Unima) and Mzuzu University and promoted theatre through university travelling theatre groups, has died at age 82.
In an interview with The Nation, a family member Blessings Shumba confirmed the death of the literary giant.
She said Shumba died at home on Monday midnight.
Shumba, fondly known as Mupa by his students, joined Unima as an administrative officer on April 1 1966, but moved to academic work in the English Department in 1969. This was after completing a bachelor of arts degree in English, Geography and History at Makerere University in Uganda where he was also a member of the Makerere Travelling Theatre. In 1971, Shumba went to the University of Edmonton in Canada where he did a Master of Arts in drama literature.
Unima Associate Professor of drama Mufunanji Magalasi, said Mupa was among the first generation of lecturers at the institution.
“He was one of the founding members of drama studies in our department. He was also the founding member of the Writers’ Workshop which led to the birth of Chanco Travelling Theatre in 1972,” he said.
“It was during the same period that Chanco was known as the home of theatre, particularly when James Gibbs joined the department and promoted theatre. Together, they built the Chirunga Open Air Theatre where the first production of Mbona, a play written by the late Professor Steve Chimombo, was performed.”
Between 1981 and 1983, Shumba went to Leeds University in the UK for a Master of Philosophy where he concentrated on research and graduated with a distinction.
On his return from Leeds, he was appointed head of the then newly established Fine and Performing Arts Department.
Magalasi said the department broke off from the English Department to offer courses in drama, music and fine arts where other founding lecturers included David Kerr, Chris Kamlongera and Bellings Kaunda.
He said by then, the Great Hall had just been constructed and attached to it was the Little Theatre which gave them more performing spaces.
“This also led to the birth of a cultural week for drama, music and dance performances which was successful in 1983 and 1984.
“Mupa played a very instrumental role in the development of the curriculum, especially on drama,” said Magalasi.
His colleague at Chanco, Professor Felix Mnthali described Shumba as a gentle and devoted Christian who will be greatly missed for his contribution to the education sector in Malawi.
“Mupa was a hard-working member of whatever group he found himself in. From being coordinator of the Writers’ Workshop at Chancellor College in the 70s and initiator of the Open Air Theatre in which gifted students such as Edge Kanyongolo displayed amazing skills to being with Professors Chipeta, Boston Soko, Peter Mwanza, one of the members of the steering committee and a Trustee of the proposed University of Ekwendeni. He lived a gentle and devoted Christian life. May his soul rest in peace.”
Shumba then joined Mzuzu University in 1999 and he is credited with introducing drama at the institution and founding Mzuzu University Theatre Arts Group (Mutag).
His former workmate Misheck Banda, who was the language and literature head of department before the deceased’s retirement from Mzuni in 2014, described his death as a shock.
“He mentored juniors very well and despite that he retired, he was always in touch with the department. We are really shocked by his demise,” he said.
Banda, who in 2016 spearheaded an event to honour Shumba with drama performances and a certificate, said Shumba was a down-to-earth person who was able to interact with anyone regardless of age or status.
Mupa was born on May 5 1940 at Euyangeni Village in Mzimba. His body is expected to be buried today at Magodi Shumba Village, Traditional Authority M’Mbelwa in Mzimba.