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  • Harare International Festival of the Arts (HIFA) 2011 - Index of articles, videos and images

  • It doesn't matter whether you are Ndebele or Shona, we are the same people - Interview with Blessing Hungwe
    Upenyu Makoni-Muchemwa,
    May 10, 2011

    Read Inside/Out with Blessing Hungwe

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    Blessing Hungwe

    Writer, director, producer and actor Blessing Hungwe wrote the HIFA 2011 play Burn Mukwerkwere Burn. He has performed on stage at the Harare International Festival of the Arts (HIFA) since 2007 with the production Crocodile (2007) and produced a hit version of Oedipus at HIFA 2009. Blessing has also worked as head writer/assistant director for the popular Zimbabwean Soap Studio 263, and was involved in the production of ‘I want a Wedding Dress', produced by Tsitsi Dangarembga's Nyerai Films. He describes himself as a hybrid artist able to flex his creative muscle in any capacity and artistic field.

    What is it like being a playwright in Zimbabwe?
    It's one of the most difficult things I've had to do in life. Writing for TV is easier because you can hop from one production to the next. But for theatre, there's not much happening. You really have to be creative and at the top of your game for people to want to hire you. It's beginning to happen for me but it's difficult. I've thought of moving down South for a couple years now. I've gone once or twice to test the waters. It's ok, it's opening up for foreigners, but it's not home. Our stories are not as gripping there as they are here. Of course you can write from an international level, but I think it's best to start from home, really establish yourself at home, hone your skills with the stories that we have so that you have your craft in hand. Listen

    I understand you also wrote for Studio 263 at one point, what was that experience like?
    That was my major breakthrough into writing. I had been writing before that, but then I got an opportunity to write for 263. Fortunately they were in a crisis at that particular moment, so I came in and became one of the top writers. That was a harsh introduction into writing for TV. But I enjoyed the experience, and 263 feels like home. So whenever they need me, from time to time I might go back and lend a hand. I loved the experience. It was pressure, pressure, pressure. The series was struggling so we had to pull up our boots and just do it. Listen

    Is there a difference in writing for TV and writing for theatre, and which do you prefer?
    I prefer writing for theatre. For TV, generally I think we are removed from the writing. Whereas for theatre it's more involved, you're more emotionally invested in it. So I prefer writing for theatre.

    What inspired your play at HIFA, Burn Mukwerekwere Burn?
    It was inspired by a friend of mine, who was one of the victims of the xenophobic attacks in South Africa. Fortunately he came back alive. Unfortunately after a few months he died. That got me to thinking, and I did some research on the subject and started writing the play. Listen

    Your characters share the same name in Shona and Ndebele, and have a lot in common but there is also tribal antagonism between them. What informed that aspect of the play?
    What I was trying to do was to hone down the universality of what xenophobia is. We are basically all the same people, it doesn't matter if its Ndebele, Shona, South African . . . if we trace it back, way back, you'll find that we might all have the roots, the same place of origin or the same ancestors. So it doesn't matter whether you are Ndebele or you are Shona, we are the same people. Listen

    When people watch this play, what do you want them to walk away thinking or feeling about it?
    I'm hoping for a little introspection from people. We are all xenophobic in our ways. Zimbabweans, we tend to look down on Mozambicans. But when it happens to us in South Africa we say "ah! These South Africans are so mean!" But here in Zimbabwe we look down upon Mozambicans, we call them moscans. We have Somali refugees in Zimbabwe and we treat them badly. There is always the thinking that when it's our home, it's ok, but when we go away, it's not ok for other people to mistreat us. Listen

    What inspires the stories you write?
    I look at my space. It depends on where I'm at. Right now I'm entering my thirties so I'm in that zone where I'm looking at life from that perspective. When I was younger I was looking at life through those lenses as well. So I'm hoping as I mature in life and gain more experiences I will write from those experiences. I think it is important to write from your own personal experiences.

    What would you say is your proudest achievement as a writer?
    There's a play that I wrote called Apokalupsis and a lot of people didn't give it enough recognition. You know how you feel when you've done your best, you've given it everything you have, you have sacrificed personally for it, and you know this is good. It ran at Theatre in the Park. I was proud of that play. No one paid me for it. It was one of those things that I wrote out of just wanting to write. It was a proud moment for me to see it on stage and hear my words coming from the actors.

    What is your dream project?
    To do a musical of Sekuru Kaguvi. I think in the eighties they did a project on Nehanda with Mbuya Stella Chiweshe, so my thinking is that I think it's time we told the story of Kaguvi in a musical. You know how Zimbabwean music is. It's exciting, the mbira, the drums, Zimbabwean voices are raw, and that will blow you away. Listen

    If you'd like to get hold of Blessing to talk about becoming a writer, he can be contacted on: Cell: +263 772 973 481 or email: blessinghungwe [at] yahoo [dot] co [dot] uk

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