For years, the life of seasoned actor Eric Mabedi brought endless lessons and laughter. But his death yesterday delivered tears and sadness.
The actor and comedian died in the early hours of Monday at Mwaiwathu Private Hospital in Blantyre where he was briefly admitted to on Sunday after he was diagnosed with Covid-19, according to close family friend and Chiradzulu East legislator Joseph Nomale.
“As you know, Eric had a long diabetic problem. On Saturday, he complained that he was not feeling well. On Sunday, he went to Mwaiwathu where he was admitted after being found with Covid-19. Unfortunately, we lost him on Monday,” he said in an interview.
Mabedi’s death brings to an end an illustrious theatre career which started around 1984.
Mabedi, widely known by his stage name Jakobo, made his breakthrough alongside his long-time friend John Nyanga when they both starred in Kwathu Drama Group’s adaption of Willie Zingani’s novel Madzi Akatayika.
Zingani said in an interview: “I have always acknowledged that they are the ones who advertised my book for which I will remain thankful. The book was reprinted within four months of its publication.”
Mabedi joined Kwathu Drama Group on recommendation of his uncle the late Charles Severe. He joined a team which comprised Nyanga, Charles Mphoka, Augustine Mauwa, Esther Jekete and Chiletso Chokani, among others.
Away from his involvement with Kwathu, where he was one of the directors until his death, Mabedi formed a potent comical duet with Nyanga known as Izeki ndi Jakobo which entertained Malawians until 2015 when Nyanga died.
Zingani said no-one can claim to have trained the duo to become what they were.
“The two turned themselves into probably Malawi’s best comedians. No-one can claim to have trained them because from what I know they trained themselves. Eric wrote and directed his own plays,” he said.
Zingani said Mabedi will be remembered as a polite, down-to-earth person who was easy to work with.
“He was fun. I am shocked, grieved and saddened. I will miss him just like other million Malawians. Malawi has lost a very talented artist very hard to replace,” he said.
One of Malawi’s key theatre figures Smith Likongwe said Mabedi’s death is a big blow to the country’s theatre. He described him as the face of vernacular drama.
“He was one of the originators of theatre in Malawi along with others in terms of popularising it. He has been the driving force behind theatre in Malawi. His death will leave a lasting impact on theatre development in Malawi,” he said.
Malawi Against Physical Disabilities (MAP) general manager Alex Dzinkambani, where Mabedi worked from 1990, said they are devastated with his death.
He said the institution also benefitted a lot from his skills.
Said Dzinkamani: “Eric as you knew him, was always there to make everyone laugh and feel relaxed. He was friends with everybody across the country. He is someone who will be greatly missed for his service here at MAP and as an actor.”
Mabedi joined MAP as a data officer but the time of his death, he was an awareness and fundraising officer.
In a separate interview, Joy Radio manager Blessings Cheleuka said his death is the end of his programme Tiimbe.
He said: “He used to present this unique music show which focused on traditional music of legends such as Allan Namoko. He used to source the music himself and had the background to the music since he had met these great artists. We don’t know how we will proceed without him.”
Cheleuka said Joy Radio benefitted a lot from Mabedi during the 16 years they worked with him as a part-time presenter.
On his part, Mabedi’s long-time friend Billy Kaunda said the death of Mabedi is shocking and painful.
“He was planning to write a play about my life based on the book Hills and Valleys. He even said after the stage play he would develop it into a movie. Now all those plans are up in flames,” he said.
Kaunda said throughout his career as a musician, Mabedi was one of his biggest supporters and critics.
Mabedi struggled with diabetes for years. He also struggled with kidney failure until he underwent a kidney transplant in India in 2019. After a successful surgery, Mabedi returned on stage with Kwathu Drama Group where he featured in their recent productions such as Aneneri.
His remains will be buried at Catholic Institute Cemetery in Blantyre today.
Mabedi, 58, is survived by a wife and two children.
He came from Mpira Village, Traditional Authority Kadewere in Chiradzulu.