The Sunday Mail
So brilliant were their exploits such that long after the closing credits, their action on the small screen lingered, never to be forgotten.
Their delivery was so sublime. Decades later, snippets of their roles continue to be used to interpret current events, especially on social media.
It could be Paraffin telling someone off or the inimitable Mukadota expressing pleasure or lack thereof. Raw emotion, unparalleled acting, effortless charm and charisma separated these arts heroes and heroines from the rest of their peers.
Local drama actors that graced the small screen before the turn of the new millennium remain the most dominant and outstanding in most viewers’ minds. This is at least according to general comments on various social media platforms like YouTube as well as a snap survey conducted by The Sunday Mail Society on the streets of Harare.
Could the advent of new technologies, the internet and satellite television in particular, have affected most productions that came after 2000? Is fresh talent no longer coming through the ranks?
At one point, most local dramas were screened at ZTV, which is owned by the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation. The television channel was the only option for most households.
That is no longer the case!
Technology is now accessible to almost everyone, which has subsequently led to the dearth of gate-keeping. Multi-talented and veteran arts practitioner Aaron Chiundura Moyo believes that most current productions are half-baked.
“We took time doing rehearsals so the end product was always perfect. Besides, production of dramas was not open to everyone. ZBC had trained producers and directors. Now you have a youngster coming today for advice on how to write a drama script, the next day they have a production on television, just because he or she has money. And casting is no longer done on merit.“Also, there is no more genuine criticism from the media. The older generation of journalists was factual. Modern day reviews lack substance as it is now all about pleasing each other,” moaned Chiundura Moyo. Rising producer/actor Lloyd “Mablah 10” Kurima of the “Bag Rabvaruka” fame added: “The guys from back in the day were natural actors. It was just pure talent. Modern day acting has been affected by nepotism. You have a producer employing his girlfriend or relatives, not on merit. That is compromising the quality of most productions. Also we now have people that want to be on television just for the sake of fame, even though they know that they are not gifted actors.” Below we look at some of the country’s outstanding actors and productions over the past 39 years.
The affable and multi-talented Safirio Madzikatire probably set the bar high in the drama category with his “Mukadota Family” shot from around 1982 up to 1996. Many viewers still rate the production as one of the best television shows to have been produced in the country. The productions are still being played on ZTV and many still enjoy watching them.
Madzikatire, who is popularly known as Mukadota or Baba Rwizi, had a cast of a few people, among them Mai Rwizi, Baba and Mai Phineas, Bonnie, Madhuve, Rwizi and his wife Katarina, Chibhodhoro and Machipisa. However, the small cast still managed to produce an explosive act.
The storyline was simple and the characters, according to former ZBC veteran producers, never followed a written script. The crew was only briefed on what was expected on a particular episode. Mukadota’s comedy was mainly expressed with the aid of the music that he composed and played.
The charismatic artiste was ahead of his time. Every now and then, he would use street lingo, some of which is still relevant today. For instance, in one of the episodes he tells Mai Rwizi to slow down in public, fearing embarrassment, “Itai easy vanhu vakati backer.” So pulsating was Mukadota that even the late Dr Oliver Mtukudzi dedicated the song “Andinzwi” to him. In 2009, Madzikatire was posthumously honoured through the Arts Service Award by the National Arts Council.
Magariro/Timmy na Bonzo
Freddy “Kapfupi” Manjalima and the late Lawrence “Bhonzo” Simbarashe are testimony of the power and influence of Mukadota’s productions on new generations. Kapfupi is also a musician but rose to fame through street theatre productions that were moulded along the “Mukadota Family” set-up. The comedian had an equally talented set of actors on “Magariro”, consisting of main characters Charles “Marabha” Merisi, Jeffery “Aphiri” Chikwesere and Mai Trouble (pronounced Tiraburu on set). The cast literally set ablaze primetime viewing around the year 2000. But while only death stopped Mukadota’s whirlwind from further growing in 1996, Kapfupi is very much alive while his touch has long gone to the cemetery. One would be pardoned for assuming that his early productions were more of a fluke.
Conversely, Bhonzo was a good actor whose partnership with Timothy “Timmy” Tapfumanei and other “Bhonzo neChikwata” members like Charles “Sekuru Chandi” was formidable. Bhonzo and Timmy produced rib cracking jokes that started as five-minute slots on the then Radio 2 (now Radio Zimbabwe), before the public demanded that they make productions for ZTV in the early 2000s.
So good was Bhonzo’s touch that he was a darling to many advertisers. In fact, adverts produced in the ’80s and ’90s were pulsating and they exuded creativity of the highest order. Remember the Perfection Soap or Carling Black Label adverts featuring Bhonzo, the Stewart Sakarombe driven inhapitapi chete Sun Jam advert, Peter Ndlovu’s Lifebuoy advert or the late Dr Oliver Mtukudzi Olivine advert? But again, for one reason or the other, Bhonzo failed to last the distance as he had long fallen from grace by the time he passed on.
Apparently, the crew failed to cope with the pressure that came with the increase of their production’s time from five to 30 minutes.
Primetime viewing became a must for many between 1995 and 1999, largely because of hilarious comedies like the late Simon Shumba aka Mutirowafanza’s productions. The actor was popular for his deep “Wasu” accent and humour, which he flaunted with pride on each episode. The fact that the actor could at times create a theme centred on three people — himself, wife Amai William and a girlfriend — for a 30-minute episode without losing the viewers’ devotion, was testimony of his unusual enchanting prowess.
Featuring two main characters Sakhamuzi, real name Macky Tickeys, and Fortune Ruzungunde acting as Foromani, “Sinjalo” probably falls in the same mix as Mutirowafanza’s acts. “Sinjalo” literally took the country by squall in 2002. The production tactically touched on the sensitive tribal issues pertaining the two main ethnic groups — the Shona and Ndebele — thereby promoted cordial relations. Supporting actors would periodically feature but Sakhamuzi and Foromani had the huge chunk of time in front of camera, yet there was never a dull moment.
To date, the actors are still identified with the characters they played in the drama.
Zimbabwe’s first soap opera started screening in 2002. It is among the country’s best small screen productions. Now defunct, the Aaron Chiundura Moyo creation is among the few new millennium productions that can go head-to-head with the ’80s or ’90s productions. Studio 263 initially had a solid storyline and cast before sponsors affected the flow, leading to its collapse. The late Pretty Xaba (Mai Muwengwa), Stephen Chigorimbo (John Huni), Ben Mahaka (Tom Mbambo), the late Fidelis Cheza (Mdara Danger), Charles Kapfupi (Wakanaka) and Joe Pike (Jacob Huni) are some of the veterans who gave stability to the soap.
New stars like the late Nevernay Chinyanga (Muwengwa), Charmaine Mangwende (Mai Huni) and Tongai Chirisa (Detective Trevor Davies) were created. Chirisa went on to land a role in the South African movie “Mr Bones”, before further hitting the big time in Hollywood with a role in “CSI”.
Kukhulwa Kokupela despite having been created in the early 1990s, the production is still relevant in the modern day Zimbabwe. It was one of the first local productions to address the externalisation of funds by individuals or companies. It also explored the then rising menaces of corruption, thuggery, rape and infidelity. Lead actors were the smooth talking and charismatic Felix Moyo (Silandulo) and his side kick, the late Robert “Donga” Mele.
Twenty-two years after his demise, Phillip Gadzikwa Mushangwe, aka Paraffin, remains one of the best actors to emerge after Mukadota. His combination with Mai Sorobhi, real name Rhoda Mtembe, was out of this world. Paraffin rose to prominence in the early 1990s with the drama series “Paraffin”, which had diverse themes like “Zino”, “Barika” and “Nhaka”, for each episode.
The actor’s natural antics, gait, speech manner and unlimited humour, guaranteed fits of laughter.
Just like Mukadota, Paraffin was in the habit of going “off script” and coining fresh street lingo for his scenes. Paraffin’s most popular trait on set was his unreserved love for gossip and his extraordinary eating habits that even saw him eating patients’ food in hospital. He would ask, “Ko iwo mabanana aya maakoniwa here?” (Are you struggling to eat these bananas?), before pouncing on them.
Powered by a watertight script, the 1993 drama touched on issues of greed, corruption, murder and witchcraft. The cast comprised of an assortment of talented youthful actors. Some of the actors currently lead in different productions.
Lovewell Chisango, now known as “Mdara Hweva” in “Maoko Matema”, played the role of Njaravaza while Chiundura Moyo of the “Ini ndiri gentleman handivanze” fame was Matanda. Other notables were Daniel Tapera who played the role of Kanyemba the murderer while Watson Chidzomba was a detective.
Gringo was initially Enock Chihombori’s cartoon character, which was later on adopted by ZTV. In 1999, “Gringo” became an instant hit with viewers due to its uniqueness. The production centred on mysterious plots and sub-plots, mainly created by Gringo. Gringo’s character appealed across the generation divide. And just like “Studio 263”, “Mukadota” and “Paraffin”, “Gringo” — whose lead character was Lazarus Boora (Gringo), was star-studded. Think of the unpredictable Mbudziyadhura (Blessing Chimhowa), Baba na Mai Gweshegweshe (played by William Matenga and the late Sithembeni Makawa), John Banda (the late Collin Dube), Madhumbe (Memory Makuri), Tobby (Chihombori) and his girlfriend Anna, Gweshegweshe’s daughter. However, lack of funding, not lack of creativity, drove the play off the small screen.
The 2004 production shines bright among the new millennium productions. The exceptional gold panning themed drama not only created a wave across the county but had a healthy cast that included Aleck Zulu (Skoro), Sarah Mpofu (Tashi), Zenzo Nyathi (Mzambane) and Earnest Ndlovu, who later on went to the South African small screen to feature in productions like “Inkaba”, “Generations” and “Vukhani Khoza”.
Off Amakhosi theatre production is another talented but late actress, Beatar Mangethe, who executed her lead role on “Stitsha” with precision.
Certainly, modern day actors in the mold of “Maoko Matema’s” Dyson (Steven Kaitano), David “Sabhuku Vharazipi” Mubaiwa or Mablah 10 have a lot of work to do.