Meet the Zambian Radio DJs Who Could Play a Pivotal Role in this Week's Presidential Election

'Hope and Chi' have spent eight stormy years on air as the megaphone for Zambia's voiceless.

Hope Chishala and Chi Msimuko have, at times, been followed home, threatened and questioned by shadowy figures. For a time their studio was being raided regularly by the police. Typical for opposition figures in many parts of the world, perhaps, but arrest and harassment were never career goals for these two passionate Zambian creatives. They are not anarchists or even activists, really—they’re the hosts of the Red Hot Breakfast show on Hot FM, one of the most popular live radio programmes in Lusaka, Zambia.

This week Zambia will elect a new president, just over a year after current president Edgar Lungu came to power following the death of his predecessor Michael Sata. This will be an important moment for the radio hosts whose goal has been to use their voice as a megaphone to amplify the voice of those who would otherwise remain unheard.

In every episode, since it started eight years ago, Chishala and Msimuko have challenged the Zambian political culture in a sardonic and humorous manner that has captivated Zambians and given them a platform to speak directly to the people governing the country. People who are often hard to reach.

As their star has risen, the sound of Msimuko and Chishala’s megaphone has started to drown out the threats. The powerful must now take them seriously. With over a million listeners tuned in every day—in a country of around of 14 million—“Hope and Chi” as they’re known by their listeners are known for asking the tough questions. They often call out politicians on their failures and will always poke fun at them.

This has, unsurprisingly, earned them a few disgruntled fans. While their real fans have sworn allegiance to their satirical political party Kawalala (meaning ‘thief’ in native Nyanja)—with Msimuko as president and Chishala as his unconfirmed veep—the disgruntled ones have threatened them with incarceration, with little success. During the 2011 election cycle Msimuko was accused by partisans of paying people to call in to the show to speak against the ruling government which he denies. He was threatened with arrest. Another time Chishala was forced off the show when a group of police came on the show and demanded that it be shut down because she was "speaking against the government.” Despite many attempts, this week will mark the pairs’ fourth conviction-free Zambian Election cycle.

Photo by Tahilla Photography and courtesy of Chi and Hope

“Politicians have to understand that we speak for the people and it’s rooted deep in the truth. Some people like us, some people hate us but I believe in telling the truth so that is what we will keep doing,” Chishala tells Okayafrica.

Zambia has had quite an eventful few years, in terms of politics, with two presidents dying and three leadership changes in about eight years. It’s been hard to keep track of. During each election cycle, the duo will line up political aspirants, including presidential candidates and grill them on why the people of Zambia should trust them with their country.

This year, the contest has been quite heated with political violence breaking out on more than one occasion, usually with the ruling party and main opposition throwing verbal and physical blows at each other. Some have even lost their lives. It’s been one of the most turbulent election periods in a country that is known for its peace. Chishala and Msimuko will use their platform to share events in the lead-up to the poll.

“I must say when I think back it was always a deliberate plan to create a platform for this. I can’t say the threats were also welcome but I was never going to back down. It was about making people understand that you can channel your voice for good and we have done that,” Msimuko explains. For him, radio is a powerful tool that can be used for positive influence to shape how people understand their political and social context and he wants to be at the forefront of this change.

Chishala and Msimuko’s relationship has also strengthened over the years. Chishala, who started at the Red Hot Breakfast Show, felt that the show could be made stronger by an additional host. She hadn’t anticipated that this addition would come in the form of Msimuko barging into the studio. He plonked himself in front of the mic and just started to talk, live on air. Irritated, Chishala asked him who he thought he was, in turn he asked who she was and that was the beginning of the talking duo who, in between their on-air battles, have created a warm on-air chemistry.

In this election cycle the threatening calls are less frequent, the police visits almost non-existent, but their speech has not been tempered and the questions still burn like hot embers. The duo have proved that free speech and free press, if insisted on, can be attained and maintained.

Samba Yonga is the founder of Zambian based Ku-Atenga Media that creates bespoke communication platforms focussed on Africa. Her work spans the globe but her heart is set on producing content for Africa. Follow her on Twitter, @Kuwaha on Instagram, @sambayonga and check her new podcast, Stand For Peace

Image: Courtesy TIFF

Jenna Cato Bass is Capturing the Horrors of an Unhealed Nation

The film marks the South African director's third debut and stride towards making a name for herself in the international film circuit.

Ever since premiering her debut film, Love the One You Love, which won the Best Feature Film at the Jozi Festival in 2015, Jenna Cato Bass has been a name to watch on the international film festival circuit. Her 2017 feature, High Fantasy, was the first of her films to land on the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) lineup, followed by Flatland in 2019. Her latest offering, Mlungu Wam (Good Madam), debuted at TIFF in September of 2021 — marking her third time at the esteemed Canadian film event.

Often provocative, always thought-provoking, Bass' films have come to establish her as a director who looks at South Africa's youth, the lives they're living and the future that awaits them, with a nuanced, open-minded lens. For the first time in her career, Bass uses the genre of horror to dig into an enduring mark of the country's past — that of the fraught, complex relationship between madam and domestic worker, in Mlungu Wam (Good Madam). Set in Cape Town, the film follows the unusual, disturbing things that start happening when a young woman moves back in with her estranged mother, who is the longtime caretaker for a rich, white household.

Bass also co-wrote the film Tug of War (Vuta N'Kuvute), which became Tanzania's first film to be selected for TIFF this year, and she co-wrote Rafiki, which was Kenya's first film at TIFF in 2018.

She spoke to OkayAfrica about playing in a new genre and her hopes for African cinema.

Still from Bass's film Mlungu Wam Image: Courtesy TIFF

This story revolves around the relationship between a domestic worker and her 'madam.' What made you want to make a film about this subject?

When I make films, I like the concept to revolve around something that we all have in common - because, despite the many fractures in our society, these shared places exist. And in South Africa, we felt that everyone - in some way or another - has been deeply affected by domestic work and domestic workers, who are a keystone in our society's structure. Additionally, the 'maid' and 'madam' relationship is the ultimate symbol of race relations in South Africa - as well as how they haven't changed significantly, despite almost thirty years of democracy. So a domestic worker was the perfect character around which to centre a South African horror.

The genre of horror works really well to explore this subject and tell this story — when did you know it would be the genre you'd want to use?

The early stages of developing a film aren't always linear for me. I'll be thinking about a genre I'm interested in, and then parallel to that I'll have an idea for a story or a character, and later on, will realize that these pieces all fit together. In this case, I'd been wanting to make a horror film for ages, but hadn't found the right story… until I had the idea for Mlungu Wam, and I realized I was finally ready to try this genre.

What challenges did you face in making a horror?

It was my first time working in this genre, and it was intimidating because there's no saving you if you fail. We were also working on a very, very limited budget, so it wasn't possible to show as much as we'd like to - but then again, this story was all about the subjective and the unseen, so I did as much research and planning as we could, and just had to trust it would work.

Where did you film, and did that have any impact on the process at all?

We filmed in a house in Cape Town, in a gated community in the Southern Suburbs. The house and the environment had a major impact on the film - especially because we were also quarantining there for the full 7 weeks of rehearsal and shooting. The house was our set and our accommodation, so it was very intense, very claustrophobic, and very triggering for many of our team members.

How did you and co-writer Babalwa Baartman work on the story? You've included cast members in the writing process in your previous work — did you do that here too?

Mlungu Wam was made along similar lines to my first two films, Love The One You Love and High Fantasy, where we started with an outline, cast actors, then workshopped the characters collaboratively before completing the story breakdown and using improv for the dialogue. Babalwa and I had worked together using this method on a short film we made in 2019 called Sizohlala. She really understands the process, and it was a really rewarding experience exploring the story with her and our cast.

How did Kristina Ceyton, who produced the excellent acclaimed horrors The Babadook and The Nightingale, through Causeway Films, come to be involved in this film?

I had met Sam Jennings, who is also a producer with Causeway Films, several years ago at a festival. We really connected and kept in touch over the years, sharing our work, and hoping there'd be a chance to collaborate. So when we were developing Mlungu Wam, I pitched her and Kristina the concept and they were immediately supportive. It has been a massive pleasure working with them both.

Your films are known to venture into themes of identity and healing from the past — how does this film speak to that?

Mlungu Wam is definitely about this too - it's a story about three generations of women (actually four, if you include Tsidi's grandmother, who is an unseen character in the film), how they are haunted by the past and eventually refuse to remain chained any longer. Their healing is collective, linked to each other, and wouldn't be possible for them alone as individuals.

Still from Bass's film Mlungu Wam Image: Courtesy TIFF

You've been at TIFF before - how has your experience of it been this year, with it being a hybrid of virtual and in-person?

Things have been quieter and a bit harder to navigate, but the TIFF staff have done incredible work getting the festival off the ground, despite endless challenges. It has felt very surreal to be here, and a privilege - and inspiring too, that we can still get together to celebrate films, even though our world is in such a mess. We had over 200 (socially distanced) people at our last screening, and that was an amazing feeling.

Yours is one of few African films on this year's line-up - is there anything you'd like to see happen to try improve that?

Regarding African cinema, TIFF has a real range of films this year, across several sections. Compared to many other festivals, they seem really invested in supporting cinema from the continent. Of course, this could be better, but it's also an example to other festivals who claim there aren't enough African films, that this is clearly not the case.

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