The Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZimRights) together with four partnering organisations – Election Resource Centre, Savanna Trust, Action Support Centre from South Africa and Theatre in the Park – held well-attended commemorations of Africa Human Rights Day on Thursday evening, October 20, 2016.This year’s commemorations marked the 30th anniversary of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights and the end of the African Year of Human Rights with a special focus on the rights of women.
The main attraction of the evening commemorative event, a stage performance titled “Liberation”, fulfilled the audience’s expectations as it explored in a humorous, but insightful ways the developments in the country regarding human rights and governance matters.
Imbued with a sense of African spirituality, Liberation starts with a rare meeting amongst spirit mediums of Zimbabwe over the challenges the country is facing and a deployment of some of the spirits to come to the land of the living and observe the developments.
Through characters who portray different political actors the play depicts the on-going struggles for democracy, and subterfuges of the authorities to thwart citizen dissent.
Tonde, an idealist and youthful pro-democracy activist in Liberation, gives a damning assessment of the authorities by saying “the government has become a cannibal”, which has resorted to oppressing its people.
“They might have their guns but we are the people, we are the numbers,” Tonde says defiantly despite being tortured.
In the play, repeated scenes are shown of citizen demonstrating and police brutality resulting injuries of those involved in a movement that is calling for the release of its abducted leader.
The scene is reminiscent of the current struggles by activists after the abduction of pro-democracy activist Itai Dzamara in March 2015 who remains unaccounted for, and their calling for good governance and democracy.
A character who is a war veteran of the liberation struggle against colonialism is constantly reminded by a nephew how he is being abused by people who have hijacked the movement for personal gains.
The character due to personal interest is ambivalent about join the popular cause, but he is soon bought off with an offer letter for a piece of farmland.
Nevertheless, he admits: “Politicians are now using poverty to control the people. Fighting for freedom is not a pastime. We went to war so that you young people have a better life.”
At the centre of the play is a character playing the role of a ruling party politician, Cde Mao who sexually abuses poor young women, including university students in exchange for scarce opportunities at a national television broadcaster, while he uses them as informers.
Cde Mao is blatant about his self-interest and bootlicking of the oppressive system where his bread is buttered.
“We must collect as much as fast as our hands can. With these protests who knows what happens next,” Cde Mao says to a fellow college in the political system over the phone, while reminding the other speaker on the phone to be loyal to their political leader.
“Don’t forget to kneel to the commander. Me, I can kneel down on my knees from Harare to Gweru if that is what can send my children to school.”
As the engaging play comes to a close, the spirit mediums of Zimbabwe gather again for a meeting presided by the Guardian Spirit – reminiscent of Nehanda a female spirit medium famed to have guided Zimbabwe’s liberation struggle – to assess what they have seen in the land of the living.
After being goaded by other spirits who have been roiled by what is happening to the people who are oppressed, the Guardian Spirit refuses to intervene.
“What if the people down there want the spirits to help them,” asks one nagging junior spirit to the Guardian Spirit, who responds: “Suffering shall continue.”
The Guardian Spirit explains her cynicism: “Your people down there have become selfish. If a person has enough to eat they do not care about their neighbour.”
Play writer, Leornard Matsa, director Bongani Masango and assistant Elton Mjanana, and the prominent cast of Nyari Nhongonhema, Daniel Maphosa, Charles Matare, Everson Ndlovu, Rumbidzai Karize, and Dereck Nyiyakwi received a standing ovation after the performance.
During public discussion moderated by academic Dr. Charlton Tsodzo that ensued in the oversubscribed theatre venue, members of the public said they had learnt that their liberation was in their own hands.
Dr. Tsodzo agreed with the scenes that depicted the plight of young women who are being abused due to prevailing conditions of poverty.
Dr. Tsodzo commented: “I have always argued that the suffering in Zimbabwe is wearing the face of a woman.”
Members of the public said they wanted future play to explore the role of law enforcement institutions in human rights violations and educate them about protecting human rights.
ZimRights Director, Okay Machisa, said he had been impressed by the turnout and the fact that people had managed to discuss pertinent issues facing the country.