From Democrcay Boulevard to Semo: Use it Thlupego Chisiza

If it sells, use it. If it teaches, use it. If it’s true, even better! Semo is a play set in Kwacha Kwayela kingdom ruled by a dictator. Thlupego Chisiza son of the late Du Chisiza Jr is one of the actors and playwright of the play. Thlupego was arrested on 18th of December while performing on stage. His unfortunate arrest brought back memories of “Democracy Boulevard” a play written by his late father during the prodemocracy era in the 90’s.

“I think the artist is like a torch-bearer for people who have been sidelined. We are there to fight for people who might not have the opportunity to fight for themselves. If that opportunity can be found through theatre, then so be it” late Chisiza once said.

If anyone is to blame for Thlupego’s new production then it is the government itself. The way Bingu wa Mutharika has mishandled governance issues especially on the human rights front has been horrific. The 20th July demonstrations ended with 19 people dead. An investigationof the killings was able to identify 15 policemen who used arms. The police have admitted using live ammunition which led to the deaths. It is yet to be seen if anyone will be charged for the crimes.

Chisiza: Lions Theatre director

It should be noted that the play was co-authored by a youth activist critical of the regime, Robert Chasowa, who was allegedly murdered by government operatives. While the play is set in some imaginary kingdom and whatever happens there is just fiction, some parallels can be drawn with the reality of governance issues in Malawi today.

There’s a silent revolution going on. The revolution is no different from others like the Egyptian one in the causes hence the need for mobilization. People are tired of the status quo. It might be delayed but what the government is failing to see is that whatever sparked the fire in the youth will not be easily crushed or changed. We have a patient and the patient Malawi is groaning in pain right now. The only thing that will ease the pressure of the burning fever inside this body is immediate attention of a doctor.

Unfortunately, the doctor, the government in this case, has decided not to listen to the voice of the people. What has it done to relieve the sufferer? The causes are right there for all to see. In the midst of the hunger, no wages delivered for services rendered or loss of jobs due to a failed economy and pretty much a lack of basic necessities, people have been enlightened and motivated to take action. They are no longer deceived nor will they live in fear.

A true example of Plato’s allegory of the cave is unfolding in the country. Education has played a big role in the enlightenment of the people. Mass media too has done a good job of reaching out to the people informing them of what the new world order is about so they too want change. A typical villager may not really know the concept of democracy but they will tell you that they need democracy nonetheless. With all this awareness, a government by the people for the people can be a reality.

What the government is doing is playing delay tactics. How you may ask? Ask the constitutional review which has been collecting dust at the Law commission since 2007. It is sad that people are reminiscing of leaders long gone. People are denied the right to a peaceful demonstration. One wonders why laws like Section 46 on the media ban is in effect, the anti-gay law and the Injunctions bill have been sent to the law commission for review when some of them originated from the Ministry of Justice.

The country has been transformed into a stage for comedy acts and circuses so it should come as no surprise that they are now fair play for the comedians and singers.  Some would rather wait and play the game along with the government holding hands singing “kumbaya” all the way to 2014. Nothing wrong with that but while waiting for amendments, people still need to be informed on what the government is doing.

The on-going crisis now makes me wish for the 1964 cabinet. Youthful intellectuals with pan-Africanist views, brave young men and women stood up and challenged their prime minister Kamuzu Banda. I’m not sure if our parliamentarians today have their hands tied or they are ok with the status quo. It’s obvious though that someone has to do their job. That void can be filled up with poets, playwrights, actors/actresses singers and business entrepreneurs.

Lucius Banda sings about the ills of the Mutharika regime in his songs like “Ali ndi njira zawo” [they have their ways] of unleashing terror on the people. His other song “Life” pretty much says it all. Music as well as acting have facilitated means of reaching out to the masses.

Thlupego’s role may not seem big to some but ask Americans what role acting played in the 2008 elections. Had it not been for Tina Fey’s portrayal of Sarah Palin on the show Saturday Night Live some would not have known that she was definitely not who you wanted to succeed as president should something happen to the man in charge. Granted Palin was an easy act. Her ignorance on most issues when interviewed is what led to the detriment of the McCain campaign. Tina Fey’s impressions of Palin were mostly verbatim recitals of her own words and mannerisms as well.

As was the case with the 2008 USA campaign, so it will be with this regime if they are not too careful. They are creating their own time bomb and should not be surprised if any time soon it explodes right in their own faces. Not only are they burning bridges with the people, they have done the same with donor community as well as neighboring countries.

An opportunity has come knocking such that if I were a playwright I would not pass on. As an actor, playwright and a citizen of Malawi, it is Thlupego’s right to light the lamp and tell the people about what government is doing, that the government is living a lie. He is a true son of his father.

All being said it will be up to the people to rise up, to be counted as part of the solution. Others can only do so much by facilitating the platforms for change. When an actor is pulled off stage, and the play is shut down that is a huge problem. What more will the government do tomorrow? It is high time Malawians stood together to condemn the arrest of Thlupego and recognize it what it is, extreme authoritarianism. The people need to fight for their rights. Active citizens are vital to a democracy. If there is one thing we can borrow from Malawi Congress Party it’s one of the four corner stones, that of unity. United we stand divided we fall.

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