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Play seeks to fight for sex workers’ rights

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Sex workers face a lot of challenges in their line of duty and, yet, like any other person, they have rights.

This is one of the things a play titled The Secret Life of Us is trying to highlight while, at the same time, hoping to trigger a debate.

The play, a collaboration between Mzuzu University Theatre Arts Group (Mutag) and Pamthunzi Arts, was staged at HS Winehouse in Blantyre on Friday night.

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Written by veteran female actor Dipo Katimba and Effie Makepeace, the play was premiered in 2012. However, it has been revisited, with drama lecturer Misheck Mzumara directing it.

Performances started in Mzuzu and the play was then taken to Lilongwe before the Blantyre show.

The Secret Life of Us is rated 18 as, among other things, it has language mostly used by sex workers in their line of duty.

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The play follows the story of three sex workers— Deborah played by Dipo Katimba and Chikondi (Maureen Mzumara) who have been living and working together for many years as sex workers, and Mphatso (Chikondi Litete), the young girl, who arrives on their doorstep with nowhere else to go.

Chikondi and Deborah are experienced sex workers and live together in a one bedroom house where they live with their children.

They make ends meet through prostitution and Chikondi joins in the trade since she had no choice.

As sex workers, they mostly engage in activities at night when they sell their bodies to men.

As veterans in the trade, Chikondi and Deborah have slept with a lot of men and use the money they get from their sex escapades to feed their children.

Since their work is at night, they spend half the day sleeping.

It is a tough job for them as, sometimes, they get beaten by the men and this is shown in one of the scenes where Chikondi comes home one night bruised after having differences with a man she was close with.

The climax is even more touching as the trio look back at where they have come from and this comes after Deborah falls sick. She is then diagnosed HIV positive.

Deborah actually neglects taking medicine as per advice from the hospital and this leads to her death.

Her death serves as food for thought to Chikondi and Mphatso, who contemplate dumping the trade.

The play effectively portrays the work of a sex worker, starting with their dressing where they have to put on miniskirts and other revealing attire to attract men.

It is a play which has also incorporates dances, which see the three sex workers showcase skills they throw into the ring to attract men.

Mzumara —who stars as a barman but also plays the role of a father who rapes his step daughter, Mphatso— and team did well to incorporate dances in the play, as dances colour some of the scenes.

However, there is still room for improvement for the actors, who need massive rehearsals to dance with more colour and energy.

Despite the actors being vibrant on stage, the team could also have done better in their research as there are gaps on some information related to the work of sex workers.

There are some scenes in the play that have been done maturely, leaving the audience with nothing but applause.

“What’s unique this time about the play is that it has incorporated dance which was not there at first,” Katimba said.

She said the idea to stitch the play, which also does well to involve they audience, came in 2012 after they worked with a group of women to teach them basic drama skills but found out that half of them were sex workers.

“We are looking at the challenges they face and the life they lead and, most of all, the importance of them fighting for their rights,” she said.

Mzumara said most of the issues in the play are relevant to Malawi.

“The play depicts sex workers and the problems they encounter. At the moment, nothing is changing and, as such, we also want to trigger a debate about what commercial sex workers face and probably see changes,” he said.

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