When the UK’s adulterous health secretary was caught red-handed in June 2021 – enthusiastically breaking social distancing rules with a married aide – it was Munya Chawawa’s viral video that captivated the country.
The parody Matt Hancock – It Was Me is a classic example of the satirist’s searing wit and lightning-fast creativity. A naughty confession to the tune of Shaggy’s naysaying original, the slickly edited video was released only hours after the story first broke.
But it was just one of many released by Chawawa over the past 18 months that have placed the 28-year-old firmly in the public consciousness. The 62-second It Was Me video has been viewed 2.5-million times on Twitter alone; the total views of his prodigious social media output – each one a genre-defying piece of performance art – are in the many, many millions.
While he takes on subjects from cult series Squid Game to Salt Bae’s London restaurant, a talent of note is Chawawa’s skewering – with laugh-out-loud and often painful precision – of conceits and injustices around politics, class and race. He continually delivers cultural appropriation-tackling characters such as Burberry-clad drill rapper Unknown P, and serves up a stream of winking asides, impressively lithe hip manoeuvres and canine-sharp writing.
As fans frequently observe: “Munya never misses.” Bearing a “Zimbabwean passport or British… depends who’s asking”, according to his Instagram bio, Chawawa was born in the UK and then spent his early years in Zimbabwe’s capital Harare. By all accounts, relocating with his family to a small village in Norfolk at the age of 11 was something of a shock to the system.
He speaks of his deep appreciation of Zimbabwe, telling a Dutch streetwear blog last year: “A place can feel like your spirit animal … Growing up in Zimbabwe, people are so positive and so happy you really do believe you can do anything.”
And that is what he has done. After owning the lockdown internet, Chawawa has since hit prime time. One of his latest projects, a four-part series called Race Around Britain that examines the experience of black people in the UK and features “Britain’s first-ever game of Microaggression Bingo”, has recently landed on YouTube to immediate acclaim.
From hosting the prestigious Mobo Awards and Complaints Welcome on Channel 4 (Zimbabwe flag mug in pride of place on his host’s desk) to profiles in the Guardian and the New York Times, Chawawa’s voice is clearly – and thankfully – becoming a permanent fixture.
Who better than a warm-hearted, sardonic and incredibly smart Zimbabwean to help us all find the humour in the ever-deepening scandal storm that is British politics, or the honesty in our society’s reckoning with its own racism?
Chawawa’s wit is unique, but also recalls others who have turned to comedy to find light in the dark. Far from being any kind of gallows humour, his much-needed talent rather has the power to defang those who cause real suffering, while never letting them off the hook. Who else can’t wait to see what he turns his laser-like wit to next?
This article first appeared in The Continent, the pan-African weekly newspaper read and shared on WhatsApp. Download your free copy here.