Blantyre’s Comesa Hall was last Sunday packed to capacity, with thousands waiting with impatient expectation to watch Michael Usi’s Ubatizowu ndi Watonse.
The question in everyone’s mind was: is Usi, popularly known as Manganya, really going to preach or was this just another one of his plays? Still others could not help but think that Usi, who was once speculated to contest for the MCP presidency, was just trying to make a political mark.
On the edges of their seats, the patrons were stirred to more agitation as gospel artist Macdonald Mlaka Maliro took centre stage to dish out songs that brought him to the centre of the Malawi music corridor in the late 1990s. Songs such as Dzanja Lalemba.
In part, the song goes:
Chauta naye sangakondwe
Kuti onse akudandauleni
Nthawi yanu yoyaluka yakwana
Popeza kuti dzanja lalemba
As the artist was performing one of his latest gospel tunes, Hossanah, Manganya made his entrance into the hall to the cheering of the patrons. Flanked by two police officers, the comedian walked to the stage to join ‘deacons’ Gift Namachekecha, Jeremiah Mwaungulu and Flora Suya who act in the weekly radio and TV soapie, Tikuferanji, which Usi directs.
Some could use the presence of the Tikuferanji actors to read the scriptures and give opening and closing prayers to justify that it was, simply, a play.
Before Manganya took to the pulpit, the gospel quartet Omba Lipenga’s song, Timange Dziko, touched the ‘congregation’ which included men and women from all walks of life, except those under the voting age of 18. Police officers barred minors from entering the hall.
In part, Timange Dziko went:
Timange titukule dziko lathu
Ndi udindo wa onse
Kumpingo, boma, maofesi ndi otsutsa.
The song culminated into the Malawi national anthem: Mulungu Dalitsani Malawi,
Taking to the glass pulpit, Usi began the sermon claiming his message was for the Malawi president beyond 2014.
“I can’t address Malawi’s first president Kamuzu Banda for he is dead. I cannot address Bakili Muluzi for he is retired, let him rest. I cannot address Bingu wa Mutharika for he is dead. I cannot address Joyce Banda, I don’t want to quarrel,” he said, drawing applause from the patrons.
Such was the beginning of the 30-minute sermon that traversed a host of Malawi’s socio-economic and political woes. The scriptures shifted from Isaiah 16 verse 6 (which talks against being boastful) to Solomon 8 verse 8 (where he compares Malawi’s ‘unskilled politicians’ who do not know how to run a country to the young girl with small breasts whose relatives wonder what they would do if a suitor comes to them asking for her hand in marriage).
Maybe it was Jeremiah 17 verse 11 that touched a raw nerve, if the applause it got is anything to go by. The person who gets money dishonestly, the word says, is like a bird that hatches eggs it didn’t lay. In the prime of life, he will lose his riches, and in the end he is nothing but a fool.
Thoughts of cashgate, the looting of public coffers which has dented the Joyce Banda administration, must have been running in the patrons’ heads.
Usi criticised Malawians who continue dancing for politicians who can’t provide drugs in hospitals. “Malawians are looking for a leader who will be chosen by God. They don’t want a leader endorsed by Malawians and accepted by God. Such a leader must be an ambassador of God and reflect his character,” he preached.
But was Usi not only using the word ‘sermon’ for a piece of art? Was he not just trying to run away from the censor’s long arm?
“It was reality. The censors wanted me to cancel the whole thing, saying I was just hiding behind the word sermon. Do you censor sermons? I wanted to deliver this message. I would be guilty if I did not do so,” said Usi.
The sermon was at a venue which hosted national prayers the previous week. .
“It is just a coincidence since I planned the sermon before the national prayers,” said Usi in an interview.
Veteran actor Frank Patani Mwase said it did not matter whether Manganya was acting or delivering a sermon.
“What matters is the message. As an artist, he has the liberty to use a form and style of his liking. The question is: Was the message relevant? Without going into the political details, anyone who would think the message was not relevant is not Malawian. The sermon uncovers the reality of this dispensation,” said Mwase, one of the pioneers of Malawi’s greatest theatre group, Wakhumbata Ensemble Theatre.
Nanzikambe actor Misheck Mzumara observed: “It was a message to all Malawians and to the 2014 President. There is a lot in the Holy Bible and he made it clear to us all that it’s a guide book on every situation.”
Poet Nyamalikiti Nthiwatiwa, who was monitoring the sermon which was covered live on Zodiak Broadcasting Station, posted on his Facebook wall: “I like Usi’s subtle, light-hearted but poignant activism. With the sermon intended to speak on behalf of the citizenry to the president coming up in May, he has achieved far much more than most of the CSOs [civil society organisations] we have in this country.”
When all is said and done, it remains to be seen if Malawi’s future president will reckon leadership is not a job, but a mission. And that we are all to blame if at 50, Malawi continues to sink in a quagmire of woes.