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you burn inside, or express yourself and get arrested" - Interview
with playwright Raisedon Baya
with other Bulawayo creatives here
View audio file details
Baya is one of the country's most celebrated playwrights and has
bagged a number of awards as he documents contemporary Zimbabwe
through the lens of the theatre. At this critical time when Zimbabwe
is facing all sorts of challenges, be they political, cultural or
social, Baya takes some time off to speak about artistic freedom,
poetic licence, censorship, and the creative spirit.
have been in theatre for many years now, does present day Zimbabwe
offer different artistic or creative fodder as it did when you initially?
When I first began it was about telling stories about what I see
around us and I don't think that has changed. My involvement in
the arts has never been to be politically relevant. The arts have
basically existed to nourish the soul to speak out about what is
happening around us, rather than provide a political alternative.
Even now, I believe the totality of being a human being cannot be
realised when we exclude the arts. But what we have seen in the
past few years is government shutting down spaces for artistic expression.
The arts have of course been identified as a form of speaking your
mind or political openness, but recently this space has come under
fire with a lot of actors being imprisoned and questioned.
artists appear to be in the news for the wrong reasons with arrests
of theatre artists and other creatives. What is happening here that
is not happening elsewhere in the country?
That is true. I will give you an example. When someone from Harare
speaks about Gukurahundi they get away with it; but not so for someone
in Bulawayo who does the same. In Harare you are seen as liberal,
you are seen as being open-minded or as being brave. But when it
comes from Bulawayo, it is interpreted as tribal, and that you want
to open old wounds; you want to start a tribal war; you want to
be controversial for nothing. So aurtomatically the ground is not
It makes life
difficult if you want to be creative as a theatre practitioner.
Right now the topical issue is national healing, so there is no
way you are going to address issues about national healing without
mentioning things that happened in the past. But when you talk about
these issues you immediately get arrested. And it not just about
us artists but also everyone who wants to express themselves. So
we are caught between a rock and a hard place: either you burn inside
or express yourself and get arrested.
obviously raises issues about censorship. Where does this place
What has been happening in the past three or so years have not been
censorship, but rather that there is a political hand involved.
Because what we do is we take the script to the Censorship Board
first and they tell us they are not censoring politics but things
like pornography and other things that might offend. So the Censorship
Board says it is okay go ahead with the performance. It is when
we stage the plays that you see police shutting us down. But my
understanding of censorship is that the police act when there has
been a complaint that something is offensive, then an action has
to come in. But still you see the police coming in and stopping
plays and the question for me is 'who has complained?'
What has been
happening has really been political rather than the censorship one
would expect. I have nothing against censorship if it is coming
the way it is supposed to.
Obviously it has not
been easy to walk the fine line between following your creative
spirit, artistic freedom on one hand, and safety concerns on the
other, especially after the incarceration of your theatre comrades-in-arms.
It's either you go quiet
and die inside, because the thing about creative people, is not
just about writing, but that you have something to say, you want
to change the world. If it is about an evil thing, you know passionately
that you must say it and expose it. But when you store it all up,
it means it will end up suffocating you and killing you. Some have
asked themselves is this worth dying for? I was speaking to a friend
recently who said he had been picked up and locked up and spent
three nights in prison and no one knew where he was. We have to
weigh things up and ask ourselves: is it worth it? You ask yourself,
do I want to be safe and remain irrelevant or should I sing with
all these worries for artists, what are you working on in an environment
I am working on different types of projects, one of which is training
young people. Creatively, I am working on two plays that I want
to present at the end of the year. One is called Superstar Prophet,
which is about a prophet who is about to fall from grace. And it's
nothing political at all! [laughs]. I have also been working on
a play themed around national healing, but with the arrests that
have been happening, you would not want to put your actors at risk.
But it is nothing major really as it is about asking what is the
role of artists in the national healing process, reconciliation
and integration for those who want integration. We are in discussions
with the actors about whether we can risk it. But we cannot start
this process without going back into our history so that is where
the danger is for us. The difficult thing lies in trying to tell
these stories when you are from Bulawayo. It would be much safer
for Harare theatre to tackle this theme.
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