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I’m safe: Gukarahundi actor

The play 1983: The Dark Years is politically-loaded and focuses on the sensitive issue of Gukurahundi where thousands of innocent civilians in Matabeleland and Midlands provinces were massacred in cold blood by the North Korean-trained Fifth Brigade in a six-year operation that the government claimed was an assault on “dissidents”.

Once banned in 2012 by government, Jahunda Community Arts has revisited the play and is performing it throughout the country. The play was written by Bhekumusa Moyo, produced by Sithabile Malambane and directed by Adrian Musa, who is also a key actor in the play.

The Standard Style’s Moses Mugugunyeki (MM) spoke to Musa (AM) to find out what gave them the courage to bring the topic of Gukurahundi to the fore and other issues.

Below are excerpts from the interview.

MM: Gukurahundi is a sensitive issue in Zimbabwe, what inspired you to direct and act in such a play?

AM: As a creative, I always like challenges. I see things in my own world and I try to link them with reality. It’s true that Gukurahundi is a sensitive issue in Zimbabwe, especially in the Matabeleland region and some parts of Midlands province and the thoughtfulness behind the issue inspired me to direct and act in the play. Personally, I feel honoured to play a role in the play. I am also inspired by so many other things, particularly movies such as Hotel Rwanda, Black November, The Last King of Scotland. That’s the kind of stuff that drives me in my creative world.

MM: How was the general feeling of your group and that of the audience when you staged the play in Harare?

AM: You know, when we first heard about staging the theatre piece in the capital we were all perplexed, but we really wanted it. During our first show in Harare [Theatre in the Park] we performed before a full house and it was so emotional that some people — one of our actresses and some among the audience — cried. Some individuals in the audience suggested that the play be staged throughout the country and what excited us mostly is that officials from the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission (NPRC) graced the event. The NPRC has since invited us to their offices for a possible partnership.

MM: Do you think the play provokes debate on the issue of Gukurahundi and how do you think it will help resolve this issue?

AM: The play itself is not meant for entertainment only, but it should provoke debate and trigger conversations around the issue of Gukurahundi since this is a national problem. Personally, I feel theatre is a medium of communication which should be allowed to address issues as they are. Our hope is that this play reaches out to communities as the nation moves to promote peace, healing and reconciliation.

MM: In 2012, 1983 – The Dark Years was banned and you have since resuscitated it. Do you think this is the right time to stage the play?

AM: Yes, it was banned in 2012. We were lucky to have legal minds in Lizwe Jamela from the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights who represented us which saw us being acquitted by a Bulawayo magistrate. We then decided to shelve the project and fortunately we have this new dispensation. So, who are we not to use such an opportunity to repackage our play and share it across a “new Zimbabwe” that is seeking to move forward in a free, peaceful and united manner?

MM: In the past, artistes who were deemed to be critical of the Zanu PF government were victimised. Don’t you fear persecution considering that your play was once banned?

AM: You talk about safety in Zimbabwe, my brother. We are all safe. Protest theatre is not meant to show contempt for the authorities, but to create platforms that allow dialogue over a subject and find a solution.

MM: What role does theatre or arts in general play in the development of the country?

AM: As creatives our work is to communicate with audiences in an artistic way. Arts play a major role in the development of a country as we try to engage communities without discrimination and reflect on their day-to-day lives. Yes, arts play a big role in developing a country.

MM: Have you ever been arrested over your theatre work?

AM: The theatre piece was banned in 2012, but no one from our cast was detained. We only stopped staging the play until we were acquitted in the courts of law.

MM: Who is Adrian Musa?

AM: Adrian Musa was born at Gwanda Provincial Hospital, being the first born son to a coloured mother [the late Sheila Helen Smith] and McTavish Dube [a soccer legend]. I am a simple creative entrepreneur who is determined to overcome challenges in life. I grew up in the dusty streets of Jahunda [the oldest suburb in Gwanda] and did my primary and secondary education at Jahunda Primary School and Gwanda High School respectively.

MM: What inspired you to join the arts industry and how did you end up at Jahunda Community Arts group?

AM: To be honest, my brother, I never thought that one day I would be an actor or a director of a play. I grew up playing football and I could feel it in me that I was going to make it big in soccer. I played soccer at primary school and I was spotted by scouts at Jahunda All Stars Academy under the tutelage of Mathema Mago Sibanda. That’s the place where I was groomed as a footballer. I was at some point selected from Matabeleland South province to join the national team Under-17 squad and I played for Mc Inn FC in Division 2 and we got promoted into Division 1 where I was appointed the captain of the team. I also attracted big teams such as Highlanders and CAPS United as well as Madinda Ndlovu while he was a coach in Botswana. However, none of the deals materialised. I was multi-talented when I was a boy and I was involved in other sporting disciplines like volleyball, gymnastics and martial arts. It was in martial arts where I developed the love for arts that saw me joining a group called Extra Piece that rehearsed at Jahunda Community Hall. The group later changed its name to Jahunda Community Arts. Initially, I was an actor, dancer and drummer, but 15 years down the line I find myself as the director. I would say that art found me because I am so much comfortable doing stuff that makes people appreciate. I believe I am in this world to play a part in my community.

Arts give me that sense.

MM: Where do you think arts will take you in five years and what are your dreams regarding arts?

AM: Well, like every human being I have a dream… a very big dream. My dream is more into community-initiative development. My dream is to establish a fully-equipped, functional and vibrant youth centre which shall cater for youths in my community for every talent they feel they have. A complex with five-aside and netball pitches, an amphitheatre, a hall, an internet café, musical instruments as well as a recording studio. I wish to establish a community radio station and many other components, which I have in my project proposal document. I wish to tour and travel the world over and network, build links and partnerships that will help develop my community. That’s my dream in five years’ time.

I also want to plan, run and coordinate events, from the smallest such as birthday parties, weddings and anniversaries to big gigs likes music galas, modelling shows and other national events.

MM: Who makes up Jahunda Community Arts Group?

AM: Jahunda Community Arts is made up of me, Kukhanyakwenkosi Mnkandhla, Sithabile Malambane, Stanford Nkomo, Webson Zenda, Mongeni Khumalo, Nesisa Ndlovu and Proficiency Kadder. However, we often hire part-time actors and actresses for specific productions. We are open to anyone who feels they can contribute to our cause. We operate from Jahunda Community Hall from Monday to Friday.

MM: Do arts have a place in Zimbabwe?

AM: Of course, arts has a place in Zimbabwe since it plays a major role in the society. In some developed countries, including our neighbours South Africa, arts is one of the most paying sectors. I would like to believe that as a country, we also need to consider art as a business as well as a tool that fosters national development.

MM: Are you married? Tell us about your family.

AM: I am not married. That’s a topic for another day, my brother.

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