It is not easy to describe the loss and perhaps eventual impact of the death involving an eclectic artiste, teacher and comedian in the name of John Mtsinge
Mwale famously known as Joemwa who died at 48, last Thursday after suffering a stroke.
However, it is true to admit that during his entire artistic works and humble life, Joemwa touched many people, young and old, politicians, church leaders and indeed several other sectors as witnessed on Monday when hundreds gathered at the Playhouse in Lusaka to pay their tributes during a special send-off.
As veteran actress Phenny Walubita popularly known as Dyness eulogised in her tribute poem during the ceremony, Joemwa's death " is like the scar of the wound" that lingers on the skin. Born on June 16, 1962, Joemwa began his primary education in Lusaka at Chibelo Primary School then later moved to Woodlands A.
As a teenager, Joemwa started developing his love for theatre in secondary school at Chizongwe Technical in Chipata and later moved to Chipata Teachers' College before upgrading his studies at Evelyn Hone College for a career in teaching of Art and English.
Despite all these educational advancements that eventually propelled him to the position of acting head of creative arts at Kamwala High School, where he was up to his death, Joemwa remained committed to performing arts and made notable achievements.
Perhaps it is this rare attribute that made Kabwata member of Parliament Given Lubinda who was among the mourners at the send-off ceremony describe Joemwa as an expressive artist.
"Joemwa was a brilliant actor, he was beyond an artiste who expressed his views freely. He was art himself," said Lubinda.
And convincingly so, Joemwa's brilliance is still reflected on the young artistes he inspired and nurtured throughout his life. These include Thomas Sipalo and Levy Ngoma - collectively known as Diffikoti and Bikkiloni - who worked with him alongside Caristus Malunga, Henry BJ Sakala and others under the Patrick Magoro Theatre group.
It was with this group that Joemwa became a household name through the ZNBC's Radio One Nyanja drama 'Tsowero' where he prominently featured as the arrogant 'Income Tax'.
"The Patrick Magoro group is what announced Joemwa's presence in Lusaka from the Eastern Province," said veteran actor, director and playwright Edward Tembo.
Tembo was the ceremony's co-anchor person alongside his peer Samuel Kasanka who both worked with Joemwa in many aspects.
" To me, he was a true disciple of art, my anchorman" said Kasanka in his tribute on behalf of the artistes present. He took the opportunity to also appeal to the government to treat the arts in Zambia seriously.
" We as artists are totally ignored by the government even though we do a lot of things and are known. Look at the things that Joemwa has done; he was a well-known artiste who even deserves a national mourning. We appeal to the government to take the arts seriously and honour the artistes," urged Kasanka who represented Zambia with Joemwa at many occasions including the 'Market Theatre' in South Africa in 1999 where Joemwa received a standing innovation according to Kasanka.
Joemwa's artistic works at home can be equated to that of the central nervous system in the body.
He had many links, all literally dependent on his expertise.
Apart from working with the Patrick Magoro and other groups, he became a writer for the Zaninge Travelling Theatre group in the 1990s.
Joemwa's best-known play with the group was ' Why must I go? which he directed and earned critical acclaim.
In 1998, another of his creative and addictive works, 'Daughters and workmates' where he was the lead cast, earned him the Ngoma Award for the best actor.
The play was also shown at a festival in South Africa.
He also worked with Swazi Theatre group where he wrote and directed 'Dalitso Must Die', a play that became very popular.
His last and most recent stage play was 'Shakwiro', an emotional and real-life situation play addressing the myths and troubles surrounding pensioners.
It's one play that featured notable female actress Matildah Malamamfumu, who along with other actors presented an excerpt from the play during the send-off as a tribute to Joemwa.
Perhaps the group that has freshest memories of Joemwa are the Zambia One Comedy, an outfit he joined in 2004 and which he managed from 2006 till his death last week.
" To us, it is more than a loss. He meant everything to the group. We planned a number of things under his guidance and to be honest, I don't even know where we will start from," said Zambia One director of productions Derrick Chalo Khondowe in an interview. "We were actually planning to start shooting our VCDs and Joemwa features prominently. In fact, this Saturday we were supposed to perform at Playhouse as Zambia One."
Lee Nonde, a member of the group believes the group should be strengthened and honour Joemwa through continuity.
" We are really at a great loss but ba Joemwa always told us that Zambia One is a team and not so much about one person. He always said we should do it for the people. I pray that we work hard and not let see the group die. He was a pillar and I personally will miss him," said Nonde who is fondly known as Ba Robby.
With such exposure, professionalism and passion, it is true to also note that Joemwa gave back to the younger generation in the arts especially those he mentored as drama patron at Kamwala High School.
This was evidently witnessed when some of the former students showcased one of the many poems he produced, evoking emotional responses especially from the current pupils.
They will not only miss his dedication, but they will find it hard to get someone to fit in his shoes and maintain the drama club's successes.
"The school will surely miss him and his works because we knew him as a teacher who could not easily be pushed," said a teacher representative from the teachers union at Kamwala.
His sentiments were echoed by school head teacher, who added that Joemwa's death was "sudden and a big blow to the school."
Musicians Levy and Moses Sakala put their sorrow into a special tribute song
'Misozi' (tears) which they sang at the occasion.
Although the words in the song were particularly grieving, there is still hope that Joemwa, who is survived by a wife and two children, will live forever through his body of work.
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