By HUMPHREY NKONDE in Ndola and AFOLABI GAMBARI in Lagos –
The year 2013 has gone and with it, has taken Africans who had global influence including anti-apartheid campaigner Nelson Mandela and Chinua Achebe, the founding father of African literature.
Mandela, South Africa’s first black President, died on December 5 while Achebe, one of the foremost African novelists and thinkers, died much earlier in the year on March 21.
A month before Achebe died, Africa and the rest of the world lost an eminent stage and film actor, Justus Esiri, who passed away on February 19.
While Mandela fought apartheid by participating in active politics, Achebe used literature to depict the effects of colonialism on African governance systems, culture and religions.
Achebe achieved his mission by crafting the novel Things Falls Apart, which was published in 1958.
Even in their death, Mandela, Achebe and Esiri will continue to influence developments in politics, literature and the film industry respectively in Africa in many years to come.
In fact, there are some close links involving Mandela, Achebe and the famous Nigerian actor Esiri.
Achebe’s influence in literature was seen from the statement Mandela made when the founding father of African literature died.
The South Africa’s founding President referred to Achebe as a writer in whose company the walls of the prison come down and who also “brought Africa to the rest of the world.”
From the statement that Mandela made, it is apparent that Achebe’s writing had an impact on the challenger of apartheid while he served his prison sentence.
Mandela was arrested on August 5, 1962 and together with other African National Congress (ANC) leaders was tried for planning armed action and conspiring with other countries to invade South Africa.
Together with other ANC leaders, Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years and sent to Robben Island for 18 years.
On June 16, 1976, African students in South Africa protested against the Bantu Education Act of 1953, which resulted in the South African police firing at the protestors.
Prior to the protests, the apartheid government made it compulsory for the African students to learn Afrikaans alongside the English language.
The deceased Nigerian actor Esiri said because of Mandela’s incarceration, South Africa was put under spotlight, which led to creating of a play about the incident in Nigeria.
Esiri, who had returned to Nigeria from Germany, was one of the actors in the play known as Soweto on stage in Lagos and other parts of Nigeria.
After making a name on stage and film acting in Nigeria, it was Esiri’s intention to extend the film industry to Zambia.
His proposed method was to produce films in which Nigerian and Zambian actors co-performed and blended their African cultures.
During the Zambia International Trade Fair in 2007, Esiri assigned Zambian Insight Media Group, led by the first author of this article, to identify Zambian actors who could participate in the production of home videos.
As the Zambian company conducted its research, it was discovered that there were few trained Zambian actors who could match the prowess of their Nigerian counter parts.
Some of the Nigerian actors like Yemi Adeyemi (known as Suara in a television soap that was sponsored by Liver Brothers in Zambia), were graduates in drama from Ife University.
In a face-to-face interview with Esiri, which was published by the Sunday Mail, the deceased said that as the film industry developed in Nigeria, it was decided that Achebe’s Things Fall Apart should be turned into a film.
When it was decided that Achebe’s novel be transformed into a film, Esiri was an actor of choice in the movie.
The first author of this article was introduced to Esiri by Nigerian correspondents who used to write for the London-published Africa Films of which he was a contributor.
Achebe’s novel is centered on the clash between African culture on one side and traditions of the British colonial government as well as missionaries on the other side.
The tragic novel ends with the main character Okonkwo committing suicide as a result of the impact on foreign governance and the clash between African religions as well as Christianity.
Esiri was not only an actor, but had also formed a company that used to market Nigerian home video films in the West African nation and intended to expand the supply into Zambia.
“If you make this project successful, I will not hesitate to make you our marketing representative in Zambia,” Esiri told the author of this article.
This was after Nigerian and Ghanaian actors co-produced home videos, which have been marketed throughout Africa and the rest of the world.
The power of acting on stage and in films was to raise high standards such that even some of the Nigerians themselves did not know that Esiri was a trained civil engineer.
During the Biafra Wars between 1967 and 1970 when the Eastern part of the country wanted to secede from the rest of the country, Esiri left Nigeria to go and live in Germany.
At the time the deceased Nigerian actor was in Germany, the European country was divided into East and West Germany.
Accompanying a mobile Germany theatre club, was Esiri’s second phase in acting, having developed his talent when he was at secondary school in Nigeria in the 1960s.
Although he lived well in Germany, Esiri decided to come back to Nigeria in the 1970s in order for his home country to benefit from his talent.
He rose to fame from a television series known as the Village Headmaster, which was a political satire that the Nigerian government stripped from the air-waves.
In spite of the ban, the Village Headmaster survived as a result of the emerging home movies, fancifully tagged “Nollywood”, a term closed linked to the US film production in Hollywood.
Home movies have threatened stage drama, which some analysts say is robbing Nigeria and other parts of Africa of young acting talent.
“Without a doubt, the generations after ours deserve to know how to do this thing in the best possible way and, for me, it is a legacy that I would be proud to bequeath when I am gone,” Esiri was quoted as having said.
As 2013 ends, we need to reflect on the influence that Mandela, Achebe and Esiri exhibited in politics, literature and the film industry respectively.
Achebe has died at the time when the printed form of literature is waning due to the influence of the Internet, television and mobile phones.
People would rather use their mobile phones, i-Pads and laptop computers and ignore printed books such as Achebe’s Things Fall Apart.
Research has shown that life-long learning is based on books and other printed materials such as books, newspapers and magazines.
Printed materials can easily be stored, strict usage of grammar is followed and good usage of English in the early stages of school.
As 2013 ends, we should remember that Mandela, Achebe and Esiri had global influence because they did what was in their hearts well and spent longer periods to do so.
This is unlike the current generation, comprising politicians, actors and writers who are bent on making quick money.