Association of the Teaching of English in Malawi (Atem) drama competition has come a long way.
It is a competition which has played a crucial role in unearthing theatre talent in the country and has acted as a nursery for many of the drama groups.
Although drama is now the main event in the limelight, Atem involves different activities aimed at propelling speaking of the English language.
Having been there for years, Atem boosts of having produced such names like theatre maestro Du Chisiza Jr, who died on February 24, 1999.
Du, the founder of Wakhumbata Ensemble Theatre (Wet) which is no longer in the picture and simply put it died a natural death, may have advanced his theatre skills in United States of America but he once said that he owed his rise in drama to Atem.
By the way Du’s first performance of The Deceased’s Attack was done on March 12, 1983 by Henry Henderson Institute (HHI) during Atem which was held at Blantyre Teachers College.
The play featured actors such as Du, who played Viyezgu, Josephine Moses ( Pachuma), Asamila Ali (Khumbata), Chiliro (Martin Phiri), Nthutwe (Edwin Dokera), Moyala (Hardings Chirwa), Kanyoli (Moses Gondwe) and Drummer (Martin Chiumia).
The others were ethno-musician Waliko Makhala and Alick Ngwira.
Du left a record at HHI where his masterpiece The Deceased’s Attack won him the 1983 Atem national drama award apart from being voted the best actor and playwright of the year.
Atem created a path for Du who after his secondary education went for further studies at Philadelphia College of the Performing Arts where he graduated with a Bachelors degree in fine arts majoring in acting.
When he returned home after four years at Philadelphia, Du immediately formed Wakhumbata whose objective he said was to rectify the sheer misconception which had taken root in the heart of multitudes that theatre was solely for entertainment.
Du actually commended Atem that it was doing a very good job in the country in as far as unearthing talent was concerned.
“We need to start from the grassroots if theatre has to grow. I strongly believe that theatre is a vital weapon through which artists can educate and save people, free and entertain them and serve its community in many more ways,” said the theatre genius.
If Du, who wrote several plays for Wet, were to come back to life today, he would be very happy that Atem still exists and that it continues its operations of propelling drama in the country and unearthing talent.
But he would be disappointed that the competition has failed to grows.
The contest up to now runs without proper sponsorship despite schools spending heavily on such things like costume.
The competition in fact is failing to stand out and be counted alongside other drama contests because it does not even have well packaged prizes for the winners as part of motivation.
If this is not enough, the competition which in the past years was only dominated by government secondary schools but now private schools have come in, is in a mess with directors of schools drawing battle grounds.
The recent scenario is the one which has seen Chichiri Secondary School which failed to make it through in the South West Education Division finals participating in the regional finals.
Chichiri’s participation in the regional finals which saw them claiming third position and cruise to the national final slated for June, has not gone down well with some schools among them Baptist Academy and Joyce Banda Foundation.
Baptist Academy came fourth during the regional finals and the school argues that had it been that Chichiri did not participate, they would have got position three.
The two schools have since written a letter to Atem South chapter appealing against the results and have called for Chichiri Secondary School to be penalised without which they will takelegal action.
The rules are very clear that three schools in each division make it through to the regional finals before the national finals which also get three schools each from the three regions.
But the organisers have not been following the rules and in some instances instead of sticking with three schools, some divisions have been producing four schools.
Chichiri Secondary has indicated that after getting position four during the divisional finals, they were not satisfied with the results alleging that one of the judges had favoured another school because of connections.
The school revealed that after raising the issue the committee later wrote a letter to them giving them a go ahead to participate in the regional finals.
But some schools have said the Southern chapter was supposed to follow the rules and not break them.
A source who did not want to be named backed Chichiri saying it was not to blame for the issue as Atem allowed them to go to the regional finals.
“Chichiri lodged a complaint through a letter over unfair results and so they were given a go ahead because their complaint was valid. Actually Chichiri is not the first school to do this. Michiru two years ago also did the same likewise St Patricks,” said the source.
He revealed that last year Zomba Catholic also participated in the final, under protest after they lodged a complaint over unfair results during the regional finals.
“Atem organisers are to blame for all this mess. Again we have directors who need to be reduced to size because they are killing Atem with their politics. They have completely overpowered patrons and are the ones who have created part of this mess,” he said.
He then called for an overhaul of the committees starting from national saying many faces have outlived their time and that it was time for change for the betterment of Atem.
“There is need for fresh blood otherwise things are not healthy. Atem needs to put its brand back in shape. It needs to start afresh, come up with rules and regulations that will not be manipulated; stamp out corruption where sometimes judges are palm oiled to favour some schools, there is need for transparency,” said the source.
Chairperson of Atem South chapter Smart Chikumbeni confirmed that they had received a letter of complaint over Chichiri’s participation in the regional finals.
Asked what they were going to do, Chikumbeni said they will examine the issue and sort it out.
“I will not say much now because we have to examine everything on the ground. But we will sort it out,” he said.
Further questioned as to what happened for Chichiri to participate and yet they failed during the divisional finals, Chikumbeni said:
“Chichiri came because it was agreed among the patrons after weighing their issue. Of course as a committee we argued until we reached a consensus to allow them. But we must admit that rules were supposed to be followed and as I said we will sort out the issue,” Chikumbeni said.
Atem President Fanuel Mapira said on Monday that his office was yet to receive a report from the Southern chapter but he indicated that the issue was straight forward in that rules were supposed to be followed.
“It’s a straight forward issue rules were supposed to be followed but for now we will wait to get a report from the Southern chapter,” Mapira said.
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