HOME IS NO LONGER A PIECE OF LAND BUT A PLACE OF COMFORT
BY RAISEDON BAYA
I live in Zimbabwe, a country that has mastered the art of normalizing the abnormal. Nothing shocks my countrymen or women any more. We now move around like zombies, more like characters from the American television series The Walking Dead, showing little feelings, hiding our fears, impotent rage, frustrations and abandoned dreams inside our thick black skins – completely aware that the worst thing that can happen to us now is death. For everything else we have witnessed. Name it and we have seen it all. Political crisis. Economic crisis. Hunger. Impotent rage. Droughts. Corruption. Power cuts. The worst hyper-inflation in the world. Cash shortages. Unemployment. Political violence. A stolen election. There is really nothing we haven’t seen in my country.
As our situation got worse, platforms for free speech and debate dwindled and theatre became one of the very few platforms where critical debate and discussion on matters of governance, transparency and survival were found.
However, plays were banned at the whim of any government officer or policeman who happened to pass through a performance. Playwrights were threatened with incarceration or serious consequences. (Read disappearance.) Censorship became the order of the day. During the crisis, Zimbabwean theatre, which has always been seen as nothing but a trivial occupation, became a serious threat to government and the ruling ZANU PF.
During the worst period of our political and economic crisis we lost our own currency. I have never heard of anything like that happening to any country in Africa. We were the first. Our homes, places where we all expected laughter, love, and security became more like hiding places – we went home to hide our tears, frustrations and fears. Home was not home anymore. Zimbabwe became unlivable and so, as a result, millions of my countrymen and women migrated to places they thought were better - places that offered them hope and better opportunities for new beginnings. The majority moved into neighboring countries like Botswana, South Africa, Swaziland and Lesotho - these have better economies and, more importantly, stability. Others left for Europe and America. They all left to find better places they could call home. A home they at least feel safe living in. For many that foreign ‘home’ has become a reality. They live new dreams now. Happy to have left their country of birth. For others moving away from Zimbabwe in search of new homes became nothing but a nightmare. For those that settled in South Africa the nightmare has been real. These have born the brunt of serious xenophobic attacks – some have even been burnt alive in open streets; some have been stabbed; and others simply terrorized for speaking a different language and having a darker skin than South African people. When those in America, Europe and other places of the world occasionally call back to Zimbabwe, they tell sad stories of racism, unfriendly weather, loneliness, and depression.
Theatre, especially travelling theatre, is migratory in nature. Imagine taking one play from one venue to another, from one city to another, from one country to another and trying to make your audiences believe that the play was made specifically for them. Each performance trying so hard to find home in every venue. In Zimbabwe, and perhaps most of Africa, theatre has no specific home. Wherever there are people/audiences our theatre has always tried to find a home there. This theatre life – you can call it nomadic - of constantly trying to find a home has become a serious reality for millions of Zimbabweans.
But what has Zimbabwean theatre done to give direction or at least offer some kind of home for the millions who have been displaced and continue to search for that elusive home? Nothing much to be honest. However, theatre has continued to document Zimbabwe’s situation since things started going bad. Theatre has also, in a small way though, been able to offer some therapy to many troubled citizens and even the artists themselves by offering hope and a space to imagine a better tomorrow. Theatre has been one of the few platforms in Zimbabwe where the general public has been told the truth, where the public has been told that their salvation lies in them rising up and claiming their birth right. Theatre has been one of the few platforms to tell those responsible with the chaos in Zimbabwe that all is not well. That the silence of the masses does not mean contentment. It is one platform that continues to be the little voice of conscience, and the voice of the masses.
For years now, theatre has been a sanctuary for many Zimbabwean ‘artivists’. Cont Mhlanga. Daves Guzha. Raisedon Baya. Daniel Maphosa. Josh Nyapimbi. Memory Kumbota. Tafadzwa Muzondo. Thabani H. Moyo. And many others. Theatre has been home for pro-democratic ideas and alternative thoughts. Theatre has spoken against power, against displacement and senseless deportations. It is a public secret that people do not migrate from where they are happy, safe and see a brighter future for themselves and their children. People migrate from places that threaten their happiness, safety and even survival. I believe in a theatre that encourages tolerance. Tolerance of our differences and diversity as human beings. I believe in a multi-cultural society. I believe in providing safe homes for those that are genuinely running from harm and seeking homes in foreign lands. After all, we are one people whose differences are in the sounds of our tongues and the color of our skin and/or the strands of our hair.
Zimbabwe itself is a cosmopolitan country. Before her independence, when she was still a British colony under the name Rhodesia and a business hub for Southern Africa, many migrant workers from Malawi, Zambia, and Mozambique found permanent home in Zimbabwe. The unfortunate truth is that rarely do you find this narrative in Zimbabwean theatre, save perhaps through traditional dance in the mines.
As a playwright, I am currently working on a piece called Fragile. This is a physical theatre presentation on migration, homophobia, and xenophobia. It is about Zimbabwean citizens abandoning their country for South Africa because the other country offers better opportunities. One of the characters is running away from homophobia. She is lesbian and fears for her life in Zimbabwe where the country’s president has described gays and lesbians as worse than dogs. South Africa is the only African country that honestly and genuinely tolerates minority sexual rights. Other characters in the play have left Zimbabwe for economic and political reasons. They have found homes in South Africa. Some even feel more South African than Zimbabwean, even though they are being persecuted. They so much want to forget the past and with it their true identity. I know of writers and artists who are in exile and feel exactly like some of the characters in my play. They feel lost. They feel betrayed. They feel angry. Most of them have found a home and even a stronger voice to articulate issues back here better than most of us who remained in Zimbabwe. Writers like NoViolet Bulawayo, Petina Gapah, Tendai Huchu and Christopher Mlalazi. Exile has given these artists a better perspective and more courage to speak about the injustices in Zimbabwe.
As we discuss migration, home and theatre, the critical question to ask ourselves is: What exactly is home? Well, the truth is that home is no longer a piece of land in one’s country of birth. Home is now any place of comfort. Home can be anywhere. This is what every government in the world needs to understand. Globalization has reduced the world into a village. And we all belong to this village.
RAISEDON BAYA is an award winning playwright and arts administrator and currently the Festival Director for Intwasa Arts Festival koBulawayo. The festival is Zimbabwe’s second largest multi discipline arts festival curating about 50 events in six days.
Raisedon Baya writes and directs for theatre and television. He has published three books, an anthology of plays, another anthology of Zimbabwean folktales, and a book on forum theatre. Baya also writes for local newspapers where he has an arts column that has been running for over 10 years.
Baya has won several Zimbabwean awards for his writing and theatre work. He is also a recipient of 2008 PEN Novib Freedom of Expression Award. Two of his plays Super Patriots and Morons & The Crocodile of Zambezi are banned in Zimbabwe.
BLOG SALON CURATOR
Ruth Margraff is a playwright and writing program chair at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Margraff's plays, poetry and opera works include Anger/Fly; Three Graces; Temptation of the Fresh Voluptuous; Cafe Antarsia Ensemble; Seven; Stadium Devildare; The Cry Pitch Carrolls; The Elektra Fugues; Night Vision; Deadly She-Wolf Assassin At Armageddon, Voice of the Dragon 1,2,3; Judges 19: Black Lung Exhaling; All Those Violent Sweaters; Red Frogs; Night Parachute Battalion; The State of Gristle; Centaur Battle of San Jacinto; Wallpaper Psalm. Her work has been performed at various festivals and venues throughout USA; UK; Canada; Russia; Romania; Serbia; Hungary; Ireland; Italy; Greece; Turkey; Slovenia; Czech Republic; Croatia; France; Austria, Sweden; Japan; Egypt; India, Azerbaijan. She is recipient of numerous awards from institutions including Rockefeller Foundation; McKnight Foundation; Jerome Foundation; National Endowment for the Arts; Theater Communications Group; Fulbright; New York State Council on the Arts; Illinois Arts Council; Arts International; Trust for Mutual Understanding of New York, CultureConnect.