By Moses Walubiri and Ashraf Kasirye
The cold hand of the grim reaper on Saturday January 11 2014 afternoon plunged the theatre community into gloom when renowned artist and actor Paddy Ssali, popularly known as Paddy Bitama lost his protracted battle with skin cancer.
A trail blazer in stand-up comedy with the Amarula Family, Bitama, according to Dr. Henry Dungu, died nine days after his admission at Mulago Cancer Institute.
Following a routine medical follow-up, doctors at the cancer institute deemed it prudent to have Bitama admitted after diagnosing him with anaemia and general body dehydration.
“Bitama has caught us off guard with his passing,” Dr. Dungu said on Saturday, reminiscing about how 20 minutes before his sudden death, Bitama asked him whether he was aware of swirling rumours of his death on the internet and FM stations.
Dungu says on his return after a short while, he found Bitama clasping his chest, with attempts by a team of doctors to resuscitate him coming to naught.
Pastor Wilson Bugembe described Bitama as one of his “friends” and a parishioner at his church, describing witnessing his last moments as “overwhelming.” Bugembe had gone to visit Bitama when his situation suddenly deteriorated and he died.
Bitama’s death spread like a wild fire and within a few minutes, many musicians, artistes and comedians led by Amarula’s Allan Mujuni popularly known as Amooti Omubalanguzi descended at Mulago Cancer Institute.
Bitama’s journey to the top of comedy in Uganda has been as challenging as its humbling; at one time eking out a living as a waiter in a bar in Nansana, trying his hands on karaoke, before making a breakthrough as a presenter on Dembe FM.
Later, Bitama and his Amarula Family started a popular weekly comedy on WBS TV known as Side Mirror, which specialised in lampooning politicians and other celebrities.
In the 2006 presidential polls, Bitama took his comedy a notch higher when he unsuccessfully attempted to get registered as a candidate.
In a related development, a man claiming to be Bitama’s father yesterday lodged a complaint with Police at Nansana demanding for the deceased’s body for burial, or for Police to stay the burial until a DNA test to confirm paternity is carried out.
However, according to Division CIID for Wakiso, George Mpungu, the claimant, Peter Njegula Kasozi, was told to put his request in writing, which he had not done by press time yesterday.
“From what I have been told, the issue has been settled amicably because they have not returned,” Mpungu said when asked about the twist that could have derailed the burial arrangements.
Bitama’s known father, Tamale Ssali, died years back. A requiem mass at Bugembe’s church in Nansana yesterday was graced by hundreds of people, including politicians and fellow artistes.
“We shall greatly miss Paddy because he has literary been our shining light. He has been courageous. There is not a single office that he would not knock at if he wanted something,” Amooti Omubalanguzi said.
Sam Gombya, a musician, described Bitama as a “generous and humorous person” who had over the years became the face of comedy.
“He made Ugandans realize that one could actually make a successful career in comedy,” Gombya said.