When Vitimbi made it debut on Kenyan TV screens in the late ’70s, it enjoyed a cult-like following throughout the ’80s.
In the ’90s when pay TV entered the market and viewing choices opened up, it still did had have an edge over other local television contents for being original and more authentic.
“In particular, Moi was highly entertained by Mzee Ojwang’s acting skills. The former president often laughed to the point of shedding tears whenever we were on stage,” recalls Mary Khavere popularly known as Mama Kayai; a role she played alongside the late Benson Wanjau aka Mzee Ojwang Hatari.
The sit-com that aired on state-owned broadcast network KBC, told the story of a married couple who go through everyday challenges. It won several accolades “for its ability to entertain and educate Kenyans on social issues….” Caroline Nyanga writes of the TV show in a special feature story published on EVE, weekly lifestyle pullout packaged with the Saturday Standard newspaper.
The mother of five is glad with her achievement. “I believe my consistency on TV and the fact that I never jumped from one television programme to another enabled ‘Mama Kayai’ to become a brand.
She also says that she started out as a traditional dancer and singer with a group in her hood. She later met Mzee Ojwang’ and Judge Mize Maua of Vioja Mahakamani during her acting auditions. “They were very sportive of my career and took time to mentor me into following their footsteps,” says Khavere who made her maiden appearance on the television program Darubini in 1980 before moving on to Vitimbi and Vioja Mahakamani.
Mama Kayai disclosed that Mzee Ojwang’ was not only a talented colleague who she respected, but also a good friend. The characters they portrayed on TV became so real that when Mzee Ojwang’ passed away in 2015, many Kenyans called her to condole with her instead of his real wife Agusu Wanjiru Wanjau.
Mary Khavere also opened up to EVE of her awkward relationship with Wanjau’s wife at the begining, “she was initially wary of our relationship and the misguided notion by a large section of Kenyans that me and Mzee Ojwang’ were married in real life worsened the situation,” she says “but with time it was clear that it was all acing.”