Truth in Zim before planet circus

May 13, 2008

Dreamland; the grand opening theatre spectacle of HIFA. I play the king of a land far away who has bewitched his people in order to steal all their music which he loves and which he plays all day and tries to sing. The costume is a huge mask modeled from a well known Shona soapstone sculpture; slightly grotesque but with a strange humanity about it. This combined with a padded version of Idi Amin’s suit from Big Dada presents a recognizable image to Zimbabweans and the point is not lost to the audience who is, we must admit, predominantly the converted anyway. Still it shows that the resistance is not dead. The rest of the show combines the talents of some extraordinary Zimbabweans including Chiwiniso a singer of stellar skills and spirit, Outspoken and Comrade Fatso, Tumbuka dance company amongst many. The king is first seen playing a cello with incongruous sensitivity and humanity. He later returns and through video images of Zimbabwean atrocities he sings Never Can Say Goodbye. Or rather Priestly does and I mime and combine it with as many dance moves as I can fit comically into the two or three minutes. The grotesque hopefully is heightened and laughter allows the fear, hate and pain to find its way into constructive action and love. Ha ha ha.


Things seem uncomfortably calm and the jokes about millionaires and billionaires fall thin and painful at the feet of Zimbabweans who have to deal with the real effects of the fact that their money is worthless and that is not a joke in a supermarket queue, it is pain and starvation.


Then out for supper with Derek and Elroy two young Zimbabweans and we go to a local fast food place and we sit down to tables strewn with menus promising all sorts of culinary delights and when the waiter arrives he says with a Zimbabwean smile ‘No not available; only chicken and rice’.

And then ‘No sorry, no rice only sadza. Chicken and sadza’.

‘No vegetables? No sausages?’

‘No, only chicken and sadza.’

Well then the whole table orders chicken and sadza and they are very happy when they taste it and it sings of something good that we all partake of the only thing the place has. Then out of the blue he comes back and says ‘No, there is rice.’ and I say ‘Yes some rice, what about some of that spinach?’ I order it and he brings spinach and rice and also some vegetables which they obviously cooked especially for us. And they are delicious and the chilli is hot and the sauce is good and it costs 240 billion Zim dollars and we are all fed and happy and go back for beer in the bar. It’s 10.20pm on Sat April 26th.


Then April 27th went by with not one of us mentioning or recognizing the fact that it is our day of freedom. Weird. Good word run with the company and good session with Ashleigh and Sibu trying to develop some scenes around the theme of motherhood. Then good rehearsal with Brett in costume. Felt the power of the costume and the mask. Scared and entertained the kids. Played nice silly buggars in the routine and enjoyed sending up Bob the doos. The role sets up an image of Mugabe ruling his country and grotesquely fucking it up. At the same time the role asks questions about his humanity. It challenges the notion of his obvious and stereotypical dehumanised state. Brett is happy to investigate this against the strong flow of emotion in typical perceptions of him The metaphor in the allegory allows me to explore the humanity of the monster and so create some contradictory and unexpected emotional dynamic.  What a pleasure to play the play under the direction of Brett Bailey. Every dance move was a tribute to members of the cast of Truth in Translation. The production is nice and rough and spikey and wild and edgy just the way we like it. Then a civilized set of drinks and inedibly meaty snacks with some of the other festival artists; Norwegian aerial act musicians and director, and choreographer John Allen from New Orleans and various others. I have a six fifteen pick up so better go to bed and sleep. Ah well …


Opening night came and went with a hurried shift from Truth performance for which they laughed cried and stood and then the performance of Dreamland which was a thorough jol. After which I had a drink with Michael and then to the concert by Mbira Dzenaharira a traditional Mbira group. I had to leave them early

But what a jol; traditional and kind of trancy Zimbabwean music which moved me to dance exactly the way I wanted to. But for a bit too long. My knees are suffering this morning.


Opening of Truth in Translation; new cast and what a pleasure to have players who are interested in playing for the sake of the product and for the concept of the show, not themselves. The spirit of the company has been a pleasure from beginning to end; no defensiveness no paranoid homophobia nor mysoginism or however you spell it. Just people who are interested in playing good theatre. Double Yay!! of all yays!!!


Zimbabwe; it’s astounding in that it keeps going. It’s an amazing tribute to the resilience of a people who will not succumb to the challenge to respond with violence. A people who will endure the stupidity of ignorance and greed because they believe in the possibility of the solving of problems through love and compassion rather than through violence. Of course the problem is that violent repression was the most well taught lesson of the British colonialists. That’s why Britain can’t stand him now; he is the image of their shame, the golem they created. Zimbabwe can show the world that resistance doesn’t need to be violent in order to be effective. Patience and resilience and fortitude and extraordinary strength will serve. (he wrote not having to suffer the hunger and cruel oppression of the dictator)


Being in Zim before and during the release of the results; Sorry to tell you Mr Mbeki but there is a crisis in Zimbabwe. A serious crisis which involves the lives and livelihoods and health and safety and security of millions of Zimbabwean citizens whose voices are being stolen while the world watches and while you strut up and down holding hands with Bob in some kind of misguided loyalty to the man who supported you for so long during your struggle. But this is misplaced; the man who helped you and mentored you all those years ago is now the man who holds the tools of torture. Harare might now be a bubble of calm but it is a calm resting on a strange mixture of despair and resilience.


Today the presidential results are released to show that Tsvangirai has won 47.3 per cent which means that a run off is required. The MDC, according to one source we spoke to, is determined to boycott the run off in which case according to the constitution Mugabe will stay in power. Then they have no course of action to make change. Hopefully they will agree to it, under strictly controlled conditions so that they might feel safe after the election having repeated their expression of support for MDC. But somehow I doubt it. The sheer level of intimidation and violent pressure on the supporters of the opposition can only make them feel very insecure about continuing to support MDC. This is very bad for many thousands of poor people who will face even more hardships because of this evil regime’s selfish manipulation of power placed in their hands by the people. A regime that has placed dangerous clowns like Bright Matonga and Sikhanyiso Ndlhovu in positions in which they are able to inflict devastating evil on millions of people. I fear for the future in that despite the Zimbabwean character which seems able to endure extraordinary adversity, there will come a time that this desperation will translate into violent response and uprising which will result in crushing suppression and further bloody resistance. The expressions of resistance in the festival so artfully crafted to be clear but subtle are turned by the spin doctors of the regime-controlled press into the tools whereby the regime is able to maintain the cartoonesquely ridiculous pose of normality and good governance and the happiness of the people and the evil of MDC ‘agitators’ . These are all brought to nothing by the simple political manipulations of power hungry greedy selfish and evil men and women who care nothing for the well being of the populous.


The fear in the eyes of men in security positions at the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Holdings – Holdings is right. Holding very bloody tight – is palpable. They are not surly soldiers wielding their power. They are lowly civilians who demonstrate clearly that if they put a foot wrong they are in serious trouble. The underlying feeling of fear instills the landscape with strange paradox. An eerie mixture of African zen, resigned patience, growing frustration and real fear. A mixture which has the potential to explode into violence as senseless as the oppression which causes it. There is a change coming. But these results point to it being violent and bloody. And I am afraid.


We are now in Bulawayo and perhaps the distance from the safety of the festival will allow us to feel the real feelings of people closer to the end of the Mugabe blunt instrument of persuasion. I am ashamed of my leader’s hypocrisy and selfish protection of his own interests at the expense of the lives of millions of the very people who supported him during his struggle.

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