13 May 2007

Zimbabwe: The Good President Goes Regional International

AFTER a successful premiere in Harare on 12 April, Cont Mhlanga's latest play, The Good President -- a controversial, politically-charged satire based on the government's onslaught on opposition supporters in the 1980s and on March 2007 -- goes on a regional tour next month, starting with Botswana.

The riveting production aptly revisits events that occurred during the struggle for independence, and in the 27 years after independence.

During its premiere, the play attracted a heavy presence of security agents, but there were no arrests. The play also received a serious backlash from state-controlled newspapers who labelled it "self-serving, tribal and anti-government".

Although a detailed itinerary is not yet available, after Botswana, the play will return to Bulawayo before proceeding to other countries in the region, and finally an international tour.

Sihle Nyathi, a spokesperson for Amakhosi Theatre and Performing Arts Academy, the producers of the play, said the Botswana tour would run from 13 to 16 June.

"At the moment we do not have details of the venues, but all the shows will be in Gaborone. After that, the play will be staged in Bulawayo for five days from 19 to 23 June," said Nyathi.

After that, the play will go on a continental tour, before going international. Nyathi refused to give details, saying there were still a few things they need to finalise with the people who have shown interest in commissioning the play in their countries.

Mhlanga, who created and directed the blatantly political play, insists that it "is not about politics, bread or anything, but about a rural grandmother" who commits suicide in protest after her grandson refuses to give her transport money to return to the rural areas in time for her to vote back the ruling party president, referred to in the play as Ndega-Ndega.

But there is a small problem for Granny, ably played by Thembekile Ngwabi: It is not clear whether the election would be held in 2008, 2010, 2011 or 2012, as details on the poster appear to have been changed many times, highlighting the confusion that has been caused by the so-called harmonisation of presidential, parliamentary and local government elections.

Mhlanga said people were free to generate whatever meaning they wanted from the play, which he said, was exactly what theatre was meant for.

The outspoken playwright said he was not scared that the play was inspired by the recent bashing of opposition leaders and civic society activists on their way to a prayer meeting.

He said the bashing was a sign of the beginning of the end of the rule of President Mugabe and his inner circle, who stand accused of running down the country's economy and bringing it to its knees.

"If the members of the greatest and highest institution of leadership in the country -- the Zanu PF politburo and central committee -- do not take any bold actions to defend the leadership institution and the integrity of Zimbabwe . . . they will have condemned the future generations to a new, very costly walk."

Mhlanga called on political leaders to watch the play.

"The result and impact will be a more responsible, focused and people-serving profession of politics in Zimbabwe and Africa."

The play kicks off with a scene in a police station where two police officers, who call each other Wangu, are assaulting the leader of the opposition party.

The play delves into the 1980s Gukurahundi atrocities. All the male roles in the play are played by National Arts Merit Award (NAMA) Outstanding Stage Actor for 2006, Mandla Moyo.

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