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Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Malata township's colourful cartoon shop

By Andrew Mulenga

“Dad that’s your grandchild you are defiling!” yells a single mother as she walks into the bedroom that she shares with her infant after a hard day’s work at the office.  “I asked her and she agreed… sorry my daughter… but she was willing to do it” responds the old man, who is in the buff with the child wrapped in his arms.

Through a cartoon Wisdom tells how a man
sexually abused his own grand daughter
The woman is in a formal, nine hour per day shift but cannot afford a baby sitter and therefore entrusts her child in the apparently not so safe hands of her aged father whom she accommodates as a dependant.

In a separate incidence, a well-known school teacher is in a local pub. It is pay day, and he has more than his share of Shake Shake opaque beer, as he often does around this time of month. Under the influence he gets up, wobbles to a large speaker in the corner of the room and takes his time to urinate on it.

“Hey! Can’t you see you are urinating on the speaker”, screams the serious, but tolerant bar owner to his loyal but erring customer. “How can I see it when I’m sleep walking”, responds the drunk teacher. As luck would have it, the bar owner forgives his intoxicated patron and goes on to drive him safely home.

A resident was so drunk, fell asleep in a local bar,
got up moments later (while half asleep) and
walked to a speaker to relieve himself
While both these scenarios are intensely dramatic, the licentious grandfather affair can be described as revolting and the stoned teacher episode as hilarious. And as bizarre and fabricated as they might appear, these are factual incidences that actually took place in Lusaka’s Malata compound just a couple of months ago.

The incidences were not broadcast on any community radio or television station nor printed in any newspaper. However, these and similar tales are ‘published’ by Post Malata.

What is Post Malata? You ask. A person, a magazine or newspaper of sorts. Well, no. It is a series of one-page ‘cartoon bulletins’ that chronicle the foolishness, humour and tragedy of everyday life in the tiny township of Malata. Nestled between the leafy suburbs of Kabulonga and Ibex Hill, in size Malata is just a fraction of your average high density township, so everyone knows everyone.

Cartoonist, Wisdom Fwati
And everyone knows Duncan Ngoma from a converted container that serves as a popular grocery shop in the market  and his friend Wisdom Vundika Fwati the resident cartoonist and author of Post Malata.

Mr Fwati explains an ordeal that he recently ‘published’: “There is this well-known guy, one of the neighbourhood thugs whom everyone fears went to steal cement from a construction site but when a friend alerted him that the police were nearby. He ran away and in the process trod on sleeping dogs waking up the entire neighbourhood with their howling and scampering”.

He explains that the following day, some residents went to Ngoma’s shop and asked whether he (Mr Fwati) had heard the latest, and asked him to draw it for Post Malata.

But it is not everything that is published. Mr Ngoma (from the shop) admits to self sensorship or indeed a media regulation of sorts. He functions as a provisional editor to ensure that his friend’s cartoons do not assassinate anyone’s character.

“This is a small compound and we wouldn’t want to make enemies with each other, Look at this it,” he says picking up a censored copy of the Post Malata that did not make it to the wall “This happened at one of the shops here, these two boys broke into a shop to steal but were caught. Everyone knows the little boys and the father to one of them is our friend so I decided not to stick it up”.

Wisdom's portrayal of a well known, local bully
and thug who was interrupted during a robbery and
was spotted scampering by the community
In essence the community has embraced Post Malata as a means of news dissemination, where they can be informed about some of the township’s peculiar activities and luckily they have Mr Fwati in their midst. His drawings have conscious innocence, combined with humour and a keen insight into character. Coupled with his ability to portray spur of the moment scenarios it is not surprising how the drawings have caught on and captured the attention of an entire community.

“How this all started was that, whenever I draw something for fun I would give it to my friend Duncan at the shop. He just used to keep them and show them to people,”  says  Mr Fwati “It’s the people themselves who asked him whether I could draw recent scandals from the compound, so I did, and then he started sticking them on the wall. So whenever something happens in the neighbourhood they really look forward to coming to the shop to see it on the wall.”

Duncan reads an 'edition' of Post Malata at the
shop where the cartoons are usually displayed
Although Mr Fwati is up to date with the goings on in Malata, he himself is a non-resident. He lives in Mtendere Township, not too far away, and only comes to Malata when he is either visiting his friend Duncan or his mother, a retired teacher who resides at Chibelo Basic School and is still waiting for her pension.

For his drawings, he uses regular blue, black or red ball-point pens (the type you will find in a school bag) on whatever piece of standard A4 sized white paper he can find. Each illustration carries its own bold, hand written headline as well as a caption describing the episode in detail with a footer in the corner that reads “True story (Kaleza)…” of course  kaleza being the chi Nyanja for thunderbolt. Customarily, in many of our local languages, we swear upon a thunderbolt.  Meaning in case the utterer is lying, may a thunderbolt strike him or her where they stand.

The innocent looking market at Malata compound
is a sweltering pot of activity by night
But as much as Mr Fwati swears upon thunderbolts, he still appears to play not only the humourist, but the moralist, because in every cartoon is actually a teaching of social significance.

What is most noteworthy about this artist and his Post Malata is the social dynamics of how a cartoonist hungry for an audience is able to find his purpose as a satirist in the community by default because he has no other space to channel his creative expression.

Nonetheless, this is nothing new. It is not the first time an artist is having upfront contact with his community audience by means of site-specific art that challenges the innocence of space, in this case a market stall.

The ‘tavern art’ of the pre and post-colonial era was born out of artists’ calling to be a mouthpiece in the community; again both humourist, and moralist, just  like Mr Fwati. Although tavern art started out as graffiti, it was beloved by the township dwellers who could relate to it because it told their story. It was their art. Art for the people by the people. Some of Zambia’s most prodigious artists such as the fabled Akwila Simpasa of Freedom Statue fame started out as tavern artists in Chamboli, scribbling everyday scenes of oppression and police brutality in charcoal on the walls. Attaining folk hero status, tavern artists were never arrested by the authoritarian Mine Police because the community enjoyed the art and would raise the alarm whenever the authorities were at hand.

 “We cartoonists have got a lot to offer but have nowhere to show our work. Newspapers and magazines do not give us the opportunity. When they do the money is very little, they do no appreciate our creativity,” complains the Kitwe raised Mr Fwati who is cagey with details of his date of birth and just says he was born in Chamboli in the 70s, went to Rokana and Kitwe primary schools and subsequently completed grade 12 at Serenje Boys in 1991.
He is currently among a group of cartoonists compiling work for Flip, a yet to be launched magazine exclusively for cartoonists that is being coordinated by well-known Zambian caricaturist and social activist Kiss Abrahams.  Courtesy Bulletin & Record Magazine (Zambia)


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