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Up-close with Mpali’s Nguzu

POLYGAMY is not anything that I would even dare to go into, says ‘Mpali’ star Mutale Monde.

The actor, who plays polygamist Shadreck Nguzu in the popular Zambezi Magic drama series, says the character he portrays is far removed from who he is off-camera.

For starters, while Nguzu is married to six wives and has to deal the complexities that arise with such an arrangement, the real Monde has been happily married to his pastor wife Monde for 29 years and is the proud father of four children.

“Polygamy is not something that I can try to encourage one to because of [my] experiences as Mr Nguzu,” he says.

During a break while filming on-location in Chilanga area, Monde, who says he is in his mid-fifties, described how he returned to acting, a passion he developed over four decades ago.

When did you first develop an interest in acting?

We were staying in Ndola. I started school at Mawilo, then from there we transferred to Lusaka. I remember at Mawilo we had an active radio actor or artiste – Mr Henry … that was our headmaster that time. So we would be listening to Ifyabukaya, so when we came here in 1974, I continued my primary school at Kasamba. I was first in the cultural group, then we used to do dancing, poetry and you remember those days it was mostly about apartheid. I remember one time [Dr Kenneth] Kaunda even wanted to arrest our teacher because he wrote a poem that was talking about the reality. In fact, that is the time when things started getting bad or worse for the UNIP government. The play was called ‘Let the child speak’. We were talking about the ills of society, how we found ourselves to be selling cigarettes on the highway just to fend for [ourselves] because by then street kidism wasn’t all that much. So we’d talk about such issues. And we presented that poetry to Kaunda. I remember that was at InterContinental Hotel. The auditorium clapped for us [but] Kaunda was very mad with us. And I remember that story came out in the Times magazine – ‘Kaunda warns a teacher for kids presenting insults to him’ – anyway it was something like that. And I remember that time they even denied us transport, the one who took us home which was quite late, was Mr Mumba Kapumpa because by then he was contacted. So in short, from there, I went to Chongwe Boys. It was a boarding school, I continued with acting. And like in my case I should be frank, I went to Chongwe Boys on Saturday – they were performing, I also performed, so I never experienced bullying!

Up to form five I was in drama. I’ve done productions by Mr Hanko Shepherd Matuli, who was quite instrumental like at primary school. Then we have done productions by Maurice Tembo, Greg Lungu, a lot many others. Then immediately after form five, I didn’t go straight into college … I joined National Milling. I was trained as a miller – it was an in-house training attached to the Liverpool Institute. So two years down the line of my training I was transferred to Kabwe where I became intern manager – I was in charge of buying grain for the Kabwe branch. So I had been with National Milling for a long time and that also stole time from me because I had lost time to participate fully in the arts. So I lost time not until 2001 when my contract finally finished. I was transferred back to Lusaka that’s where we ceased the contract and immediately I joined my wife. We had already started our own organisation in 1999 called Community for Human Development which is an NGO so I had to beef up on staff. That organisation is still up and running. We were doing community schools, capacity building to women entrepreneurs, business development, mostly it is on orphans and vulnerable children.

So sometime the other year, I told Bwanga, who is ‘Amai guru’ in the ‘Mpali’ drama – she is my sister-in-law in reality.

So I told Bwanga because by then she was already established on shows. She said iwe, are you going to act. I said you, even if I just wake up in the morning, you give me a role, I will act. So she gave my name to [Mpali director] Francis Sibbuku. When he came up with this production, he asked but how does this man look. So that’s how I sent my details, my pictures and everything as required. After some two months I just received a call to attend auditions, so that’s when I went for auditions. He said yes this is the right character. I was a bit anxious at first, even shivering a bit. So from then scripts were given – that is Mr Nguzu now – and the rest, as they say, is history.

Who is Mr Nguzu?

Nguzu is a very rich man and he owns a farm and that farm comes from a background whereby his first wife Amai Guru’s parents and his parents were neighbours so that’s when they decided to say we are going to marry these two chaps and then we put our farms together. That’s how the Nguzu Farm Plantation comes about. So initially that is the history of the first wife. Mpali starts from the time when Nguzu is married to five wives. Now, without explaining to his wives, he brings in a sixth wife, that’s where pandemonium starts! That’s the beginning on Mpali now.

Nguzu is a rich man … his first wife was given to him traditionally. Unfortunately, they couldn’t have children. So at the time he got married to a second wife, that’s when they started having children. That’s why you find he mostly loves Mwiza the most than the rest of the wives. These others it’s like he just gets them to help them. If you had seen like the sixth wife was on the street…he found that she was about to be raped, he rescues her. Ultimately at the end of the day he marries her.

Tombi it was more less the same. She was a lady in dire straits. Things like that. That’s how Nguzu ended up marrying six wives.

What do you enjoy most about playing the role of Nguzu?

What I like about it is to connect what I read – because I read a lot – to exposing it to society. Most people find reading very difficult or tedious. It’s not one pastime that they would encourage in. So mostly you’ll find that you open up to a wider audience. So playing what I was reading and putting it to character is one thing that I enjoy a lot.

Are there any similarities between Mr Monde and Mr Nguzu?

First on the marriage front: Mr Monde Mutale is married to a pastor [who fellowships] with Northmead Assembly of God. She completed her theology [studies] in November 2016, that’s when she graduated from TransAfrican University. We have four children – three girls and one boy. But Mr Nguzu is quite different, no similarities!
But one thing I like about Nguzu and Monde it’s like they show a certain intellect in terms of managing themselves. He is a serious person and I think most people say “you are a serious person”, but they don’t know that I’m also open to society. I joke, and so on. Polygamy is not anything that I would even dare to go into. Because you’ll see it will continue unfolding [in future episodes]. You’ll find that they pass a lot of hardships, physically, mentally especially, and spiritually. Polygamy is not something that I can try to encourage one to because of the experiences as Mr Nguzu.

How has playing the character affected your life in terms of the way you look at things?

One, I’m looking at things from a different angle. Mostly if you are in a monogamous marriage, you perceive things in a different way than to be in a polygamous marriage. Then the attention that I have been receiving: I’ve seen that most people, even friends, their attitude to me has changed; some for the better. Others of course they would say “so manje baja bakazi bonse, all those that you sleep with in bed”. Others would even want to be personal. For example, I went to Soweto Market with my wife one morning to buy rice. This woman just came with a tomato and threw it at me saying, “Iwe chi Nguzu iwe, why ubvutisa Monde (Nguzu, why are you troubling Monde?)”. So such things. And like in Lusaka, I’m not praising myself, it’s like it’s very difficult for me to move, even just here in Chilanga. Because wherever you go it’s “iwe chiNguzu, kaNguzu”. Others will even come to lift you up. So those are things that I never used to pass through before that I experience. And it has exposed me, say in terms of people in high society, those that I did not expect.

Then the other thing is my character. I’m a clean shaven Mutale Monde, but this is character building – I have to grow a beard and you have to grow hair and at times you don’t need to. The other thing I [had to] walk with a walking stick and it was strange to me. Now it’s part of me, I’m used to that. Because at first I was finding it very difficult to move, but now it’s a norm.

How do you manage the celebrity status?

I don’t feel it, though that’s what they call it. At first you get excited but as things go on, you become used. It’s a norm.

How has life changed for your wife Pastor Monde and children?

She knows I’ve got an acting background. The only time that she remembers me getting on [filmed] was during the 2010 World Cup in South Africa and I was in a commercial. So when she watched me she said ‘you haven’t forgotten what you learned in school’. When I told her about the role of Nguzu, she laughed and asked ‘are you going to manage?’ And I said, “yes I will”. She said, “Good luck”. And we knelt and prayed the night before going to the auditions. When they were taking pictures for the auditions, she’s the one who took mine. When we did the first episode, she saw that I was a bit jittery, especially with the bedroom scene. She said, “Umm, You’re acting like a coward!” She also supports it. I remember my last born daughter – now 18 – telling her mother “Ah what Daddy has brought now is pandemonium.” They are also enjoying.

Is Nguzu a role you would like to continue playing?

It’s something that I look forward to [continue playing]. It all depends on God Almighty. Nguzu has opened a lot of doors but it’s one role I would love to continue. I know we should be going for some other seasons under the same Mpali.

A lot of production houses have known and most of them are like “where were you all this time” and would want me to feature in their productions, but our role is quite involving…and of course there’s time that you should go to church … so having too many things on my hands is not something. But given space I’ll be able to perform.

What can viewers look forward to in future episodes of ‘Mpali’?

Nguzu is a character that they expect a lot from. Nguzu is a serious man, he doesn’t entertain alcohol, smoking. What we’ve done is just a snippet; there’s a lot to come. Because if you look at the viewership, not only from Zambia [but] even from these other SADC countries where it’s shown, they have been very appreciative.

What would be your advice to upcoming actors?

What I would say is that let them chase their dream. It took me so long to come back to acting because I had other commitments, but as of today, acting is a profession that can put bread and butter on the table. The coming of channels like Zambezi Magic have rekindled acting in most people because previously acting was looked upon like it’s a game for the sake of doing it. But nowadays people are able to put bread and butter on the table, pay your bills, do all you want. Let them also be encouraged to go to school… where professional acting can be done, just to amplify on their talent. Zambezi Magic has brought a certain section which is dealing with capacity building and already they have tapped talent from different countries [but] they are stationed in Zambia. We’ve got ZAMCOM Lodge, they are offering such courses. TEVETA, they are offering such courses. Let them amplify on their skills. The sky is the limit, that’s what I have seen in Zambia. The film industry is really becoming a boom. The other thing is I would love to see the government come in to support the arts. I’m also happy with the Church response to the arts.

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