He writes his plays alone, he took up theatre at a tender age of 17; he ghosts into parliament (unannounced) to recite them and spins in one-man street theatre to challenge and elude the police. Along the way he has been beaten – and kicked brutally.
His name is Silvanos Mudzvova – 38 – one of Zimbabwe´s most known dissident actor and playwright. He calls his art “an instrument to put brakes on Zimbabwe´s corruption.”
Silvanos Mudzvova grew up in Harare the capital of Zimbabwe – a city dotted with theatre parks but where artists are cautious to test the limits of the ruling elite.
He says he grew up seeing corruption humiliating those around him. “A part of me became aware of something really wrong when I saw municipal police harassing locals and demanding bribes.”
Theatre fame and disaster,
Fortune and bad luck took turns in his life. “At 17 years of age I was cast into the play Jekanyika by the University of Zimbabwe (UZ). Jekanyika became an international hit resulting in a European tour. This took away my chance to train as a teacher.”
Then in 2001 he attended the Central School of Speech and Drama in London, Britain after successfully auditioning to gain entry into the prestigious institution to study arts.
Upon his return from his stint in London he was disappointed to find that nothing had changed back home in Zimbabwe. “I returned to find the same problems still existed and corruption was rife. I thought my theatre would concentrate on human rights and democracy.”
Playwright “playing with fire”
Mudzova’s feud with authorities began in 2002. “Then I penned and performed my first play, a witty satire called Madam Speake Sir. Madam Speaker Sir was watched by the entire parliament.”
Mudzvova sets his play in a fictional setting where a lavish chief calls his subjects to a gathering and wants to confess “to his own involvement in political violence”. In a sudden turn of events, the chief also urges his subjects to follow his example and confess to their own involvement.
“A few people in the gathering join in and a lot of harrowing stories of political violence are heard. It becomes a moving story even for those who are hard-hearted,” he says.
He remembers his disgust: “Lawmakers laughed themselves silly watching the play. They were oblivious to the deeper meaning of the satire.”
Confrontation. Play inside police jail.
In 2007 he rehearsed his most critical play called Final Push. “In simple the play portrays two men who are it stuck in an elevator,” he says.
The play is about the chairman of a fictional building called Liberty House (a thinly disguise to the president) and his political challenger (presumed to be the opposition leader) trapped together in an elevator during a power failure. At one point, the two duke it out in a boxing match as the elevator remains still and suspended in its groove – much to gasps of other elevator users.
Authorities were alarmed by this play. Plain-clothes police officers who were seated in the audience had watched the controversial play half-way through when they stormed the backstage and dragged Mudzvova to a police truck. This forced scores of theatre lovers to storm out of the venue during the commotion.
“After our arrest, we had to act the play several times at a boardroom inside the police station. Every time we had different policeman assigned to watch us act the play as they deliberated on what crime we had committed”, he says.
The ordeal lasted thirty (36) hours after which they were notified they would be charged with treason. He was fined two million Zimbabwe dollars which was equivalent to $US2.
Missing Diamonds play,
In 2008 diamonds one of the world´s largest collection of unmined alluvial diamonds was discovered in Zimbabwe. It was hoped that Zimbabwe, one of the world´s poorest economies, has found a miraculous ways to embark on a new prosperous path. To the dismay of the nation it was revealed by the country´s president that sleazy cartels had siphoned $15 Billion worth of diamonds and left the country dry.
This lit the rod of fury for Mudzvova. He promptly penned a one-ma play Missing Diamonds – I Want My Share.”
The play opens with the actor giving his narration on the missing money. The narrator announces that according to his calculations, each citizen would have received $US1000 from the missing diamond money after tax and other banking charges. The actor proceeds in time and lands in parliament where he confronts lawmakers about his “share2 of the country´s diamond money – but retreats into flashback where he finds himself back to a depressing reality.
The play is a mixture of hilarious, poignant and some hard hitting reflection as he asks the audience questions as if they are part of the paly. Theatre lovers are caught in trance whether the play is rhetoric or interactive media.
Towards the end of the play he likens the audience to Baboon and Hares. The Hare is thrifty and clever and steals taxpayers funds while Baboons watch silent, robbed.
Police thwarted him as he loitered around parliament to “ambush lawmakers with my play” and briefly detained him until the horrific happened….
In September last year Mudzvova had just returned from a town 250km away to visit the children of a jailed pro-democracy activist. “My children were woken up by a ferocious knock to the door,” he says. “My abductors drove me to a bush outside the capital and embarked on brutal session of torture.”
“They demanded answers on who was funding me, they burnt my back with hot object and kicked me if answers didn’t satisfy them. Before they left they injected me with a chemical substance whose identity is unclear.”
He was left for dead, almost broke his limb. Passerbys looking for firewood in the forest spotted him and rushed him to clinic.
Temporary exile and global honour,
Then in January 2017 Mudzvova got a brief respite from his hardships. He was selected for a year-long Artist Protection Fund Fellowship programme at the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom.
The program organized by the University of Manchester’s Department of Arts, Languages and Culture focuses on issues related to the safety of artists.
“This fellowship programme enhances my creativity in theatre and filmmaking. I am working with well-known theatre practitioners and there will be resources at my disposal,” Mudzvova says.
To cap an illustrious year, in May 2017 Mudzvova was awarded the Vaclav Havel International Prize for Creative Dissent laureate and accepted his award at the 2017 Oslo Freedom Forum.
(Pictures show Mudzvova reciting his play Missing Diamonds)
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