Africa

'Mzee Ojwang' funeral: Kenyans mourn father of family comedy

Mzee Ojwang Image copyright Citizen TV
Image caption Benson Wanjau was on the TV screens across East Africa for many years

Kenyans have held a funeral for comic star Benson Wanjau, known to many by the name of his popular TV character "Mzee Ojwang".

He died of pneumonia at hospital earlier in July aged 78 years old.

Despite acting for more than 50 years, he could not afford to pay his medical bills and a social media campaign by fans was organised to raise the money.

Hundreds of film colleagues gathered at a stadium in the capital, Nairobi, for the funeral, also paid for by fans.

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Earlier they viewed his body at the national theatre and he has now been buried in a public cemetery.

The BBC's Abninoor Maalim in Nairobi says Mr Wanjau was regarded as Kenya's father of family comedy.

His TV series Vitimbi, popular in the 1980s and 1990s across East Africa, would take on social issues such as wife beating and drunkenness.

Image caption Despite his fame, Benson Wanjau died in poverty

Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta said the comedian "taught without sounding preachy, informed without boring anyone, and entertained without becoming trivial".

"Family television will not be the same without the promise of 'Mzee Ojwang' regaling the nation with his antics," he added.

Although Mr Wanjau had been out of the limelight for some time, his portrayal of "Mzee Ojwang" was well remembered by Kenyans, our correspondent says.

The character was an uneducated authoritarian type, who was constantly suspicious of his family and employees.

Image copyright Citizen TV
Image caption Kenyans took to the streets to remember their "father of family comedy"

Mr Wanjau's contract with the state broadcaster, KBC, was terminated in July 2014 after 40 year, in unclear circumstances, and angry fans allege the station mistreated him.

Kenyan actress Lucy Wangoi, who acted alongside him since they were both in their twenties, is urging politicians to put in regulations to protect actors.

"The only way the government can repay Mzee Ojwang as he rests is to establish policies that govern the film industry and invest in improving the lives of the artists," she told the BBC.

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