Back to Index
Producing The Crocodile on the Zambezi
Baya, African Writing Online
November 20, 2008
It took us about
two years to write The Crocodile
of Zambezi. The story kept changing, making new demands on Chris
Mlalazi and myself. It took the four actors two full months of rehearsals.
The process was not smooth as those in theatre circles will testify,
what with the cost of production creating daily headaches for producers.
After two years of writing and two months of rehearsals we were
all ready to take the play to the public. We were so confident of
show was set for Wednesday 28 May 2008. The first signs of trouble
appeared on Monday after The Chronicle failed to publish our adverts,
which we had fully paid for. When we confronted them they gave us
an unconvincing story about a technical fault. It was strange that
this particular technical fault only affected our adverts and not
anyone else's. Wednesday night was mostly smooth. Save for
the additional lights that balked at the last minute and one or
two actors missing a couple of lines the show was almost perfect.
Although this was not
a funded project we were all excited, almost on cloud nine. The
actors were balls of fire, the audience very expectant and receptive.
They even promised to come back with others the next night. The
show was promising to be a hit.
different. It was 29 May, exactly four weeks before the run-off
elections. I left Bulawayo for Harare in the morning on business,
leaving Lionel Nkosi, our production manager, in charge of everything.
That same afternoon I received a call from Kudzi Kwangari of Radio
Dialogue telling me that the police were asking about the play.
Sensing trouble, I tried to call Lionel to warn him but it was too
late. His phone rang on an on without being picked up. The police
had picked him up already.
I was coming from the
shops where I had gone to buy some props. As I approached City Hall
I saw Patrick Mabhena, one of the actors seated away from the Hall.
I thought he was taking a smoke break or something. Gift Chakuvinga
and Aleck Zulu were standing by the City Hall door with two strange
men. As I approached I sensed danger but was too late to do anything.
The two men were police officers. They took me and Aleck to the
central police station where the member in charge told us that the
play could not go on. The member in charge was rough at first but
as soon as he took us to his office he became gentle, almost nice.
"Look, we are the
police and we don't really understand anything about plays
and drama. However, we have been told to censor or stop any suspicious
We agreed to stop the
Back at City
Hall we packed our things and were about to leave when a navy blue
Madza 323 without number plates parked in front of the hall. There
were four men inside and they asked me to get in. These were not
your ordinary police officers. We drove in silence, first to Ascot
and then Christian Brothers College. We then took a narrow path
and ended up at a deserted Hillside dam.
I knew I was in trouble.
We got out of the car
and the questions started: "Where is the script for your play?
And where is Raisedon? Where is he hiding?"
"Why did you call
your play the Crocodile of Zambezi? And who is this crocodile? Why
didn't you call it the crocodile of the dam or something else?
Why the Crocodile of Zambezi?
"What are you trying
to do? Make fun of the President?"
"How much did Radio
Dialogue pay you? Are they your funders?"
"Do you know we
can kill you now? We have done it before. We can kill you and go
and have supper without thinking twice about it."
Then the blows started
raining. Left. Right. Centre. A sack was pulled over my head. Darkness.
I was failing to breathe. My ribs were on fire. They were kicking
at me. All four of them. A gun was shoved into my mouth. The beating
continued. Four big men, kicking, pounding, trying to break my ribs.
Searing pain. I was soaking and almost drowning in my own blood.
A medical check up confirmed a fractured ankle, bruised ribs, bruised
gums and a shaking tooth. A message had been sent.
The saddest thing about this incident is that the police and secret
service took a young man and tortured him for a play whose script
they never read or whose performance they never saw. If they didn't
watch the show or read the script, on what basis did they stop the
show and torture the artist? This must have all free thinkers very
This version of Pastor
Martin Niemoller's poem should be on the minds of people,
especially in these trying moments. For if they came for Lionel
in broad daylight, then surely they can come for anyone else at
First they came for
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a communist.
Then they came for the
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a trade unionist.
They came for the Jews
And I did not speak out,
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me
And there was no one left
to speak out for me.
Please credit www.kubatana.net if you make use of material from this website.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License unless stated otherwise.