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Harare musical Treasure dares to satirise Mugabe

by Moyo Roy
07 May 2011 at 11:30hrs | Views
A figure supposedly representing Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe was recently forced from his throne in front of about 7,000 cheering Harare theatre-goers watching an outdoor musical.

Singer Chiwoniso Maraire sang Gloria Gaynor's 1970s pop anthem I Will Survive "I said: 'Go, walk out the door, don't turn around now, you're not welcome any more,'" as the figure of a failing leader meekly exited the stage via the audience, who tugged at his tiger-skin robe.

"It was an amazing feeling to see him go, but it would be better if it happened in reality," said one woman who watched the show.

Writer Stephen Chifunyise said the musical was a commentary on the last 10 turbulent years in Zimbabwe: From the political oppression and slum clearances to the economic meltdown and food handouts the poor now receive - in a country once seen as the bread basket of the region.

Treasure was also a dig at the rich diamond fields recently discovered in the eastern highlands from which army commanders and politicians are accused of profiting.

At one point, the Mugabe figure with his trademark moustache and a forehead covered in sparkling gems is seen dancing along to Madonna's hit Material Girl with a look-alike of the pop star, an army general and a church leader.

Following Treasure's daring performance at this year's Harare International Festival of the Arts (Hifa), four officials were taken for questioning by the police. They were released without charge but the arts in Zimbabwe continue to push the boundaries of what the authorities will allow. Hifa organisers say the festival attracted some 100,000 people, but in general arts venues get small audiences.

Musicians who align themselves to President Mugabe's Zanu-PF party often perform at galas screened live on national television to mark occasions such as independence day. Those at the other end of the spectrum, pressing for political change and questioning the establishment, face harassment and arrest.

But Comrade Fatso, one of the most outspoken artists in Zimbabwe, feels this is no reason to give up. "I think it's important to break boundaries both musically and politically, I've never not performed something that I want to perform," the protest poet and musician says. "I feel empowered when I get that message out and the audience relates to it in their own way."

Poetry has been a very important force for social change over the past decade and it's the only art form that's grown during this decade of oppression and repression that we've gone through " Comrade Fatso's music is banned on state-controlled radio - the only kind there is on FM - but his message and that of others are heard at concerts and poetry slam events.

Theatre scripts must get past the country's censorship board before they are performed - and those that succeed still encounter problems. Even the acclaimed play Rituals, aimed at fostering dialogue about reconciliation following the 2008 election violence, has faced problems.

It was performed 100 times on a recent national tour, with open discussions held between the cast and the audience after each performance, but the entire cast was arrested in the east of the country earlier this year, spending two nights in police custody on the bizarre charge of beating a drum in public.

The actors were arrested again in another town on the charge of undermining the authority of the president but the momentum of the play has not stopped. After a tour of Zambia it was performed before large crowds at Hifa and it will move on to venues in South Africa and this year's Edinburgh Fringe festival in the UK.

"We are not political activists but we are neither ignoring that art can be a political tool for changing ways in which we govern ourselves," says Stephen Chifunyise, the writer of Rituals.

"It has always been like that - our poets in the traditional society used to criticise chiefs using very strong ritualistic poetry."

Source - Byo24News