Showcasing theatrical brilliance in Southern Africa
A humble and modest journey that started with Southern African Plays Collection has today fetched more in terms of theatrical work showing the finest of outstanding plays in Southern Africa.
It never occurred that a dramatist from Malawi by the name of Smith Likongwe would be brave enough and step forward to connect with fellow dramatists in Southern Africa and bring out some of the most outstanding plays.
For a long time, Southern Africa has played second fiddle to West and East Africa when it comes to development and this also extends to works of art.
There is a dominance of West and East Africa in the disciplines of art with little coming from Southern Africa which includes Malawi and yet digging deeper, Southern Africa has works of art that are rich and outstanding.
It is this gap that prompted Likongwe, a veteran playwright and drama lecturer at Chancellor College, to reach out to fellow dramatists and bring about some of the outstanding plays in Southern Africa.
Likongwe started off with Southern African Plays Collection published in 2018 which only had five plays from four countries namely South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Malawi.
From five plays, Likongwe decided to widen his net by reaching out to more dramatists, hence bringing out Southern African Plays II which has seven plays from six countries.
Likongwe has since launched the book Southern African Plays II. The launch took place at Golden Peacock in Blantyre where there were performances by Likongwe and some of his present and past drama students from extracts of some of the plays.
The dramatist said this anthology is a continuation of the series on plays from Southern Africa and that he is happy that he has moved from five to seven plays from six countries of Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Namibia and Botswana.
“The plays are only eminent scripts from the selected countries showcasing the excellence of theatre work in this part of Africa,” he said.
The literary expedition of Likongwe in Southern African Plays II starts with When Angels Weep by Blessing Hungwe from Zimbabwe. This is the winner of the award for the most outstanding theatrical production for the National Arts Merit Awards in Zimbabwe in 2013.
This is a story that centres on an artist seeking muses to paint a picture. From Zimbabwe, Likongwe takes theatre lovers to Malawi as he brings his own piece Mzansi Hopes. This is a play about a Malawian’s hopes of getting financial solace from South Africa.
And during the launch, people were treated to some of the scenes from the production.
From Malawi, the anthology takes people to Zambia where they sample a production titled The Chosen One written by Cheela Chilala and this is also the winner of the most outstanding script for the Ngoma Awards in Zambia in 2019. This is a play about the abuse of leadership and the trust of the people.
The plays that come up are Profound Secrets from Botswana written by Michael Tebogo which is a story about disease and inheritance of kingship, Shoes and Coups – A Paradox of the Absurd written by Palesa Mazamisa. Shoes and Coups won the award for the Best New South African Script for the Naledi Awards for 2019.
The other plays are Battered written by Donald Matthys from Namibia. Battered was one of the three scripts nominated for the Best original script at the 2019 Namibian Theatre and Film Awards. The play focuses on the lives of sex workers including the backstories that compelled them to get into sex work and then the last play in the book is from Zimbabwe titled Chimbwido – Girl of War – the winner for the award of most outstanding theatrical production for the National Arts Merit Awards of Zimbabwe in 2016.
The play is inspired by true life events as narrated by the uncle to the playwright.
“From a bird’s eye-view, the theatrical and literary landscape of Southern Africa has its own idiosyncrasies.
This is evident in this book where plays from different countries seem to be addressing similar issues,” Likongwe said.
He said that the themes in this collection are by no means exhaustive of the issues that matter in Africa.
However, it is yet another window through which the world can take a glance at the writing of plays in Africa with a focus on Southern Africa.
“The launch of the first book was even much better because I had the presence of some of the playwrights but this year due to Covid it could not work. The other playwrights would have loved to grace the launch in Malawi but despite their absence everything went well and we had their blessings,” Likongwe said.
He said the book is also part of documenting some of the most outstanding plays for future use hence taking this new approach.
“I have worked with dramatists from other countries to help put Southern Africa on the world map but playwrights here can come out and work with me. If we didn’t have some of these works written then the younger generation could not have known some of these great playwrights,” Likongwe said.
He said the intention is to make this regular.
“We start small but we shall surely make a mark. We consider it a literary crime to let this Southern African theatrical dexterity sink into oblivion. We do not want to hide this light of theatrical literature in a dark basket. We want this light to shine, and shine it will. We want to conquer and conquer we shall,” he said.
Likongwe then hailed fellow dramatists from the six countries for this effort.
“This project would not have been possible without them. They are dreamers. Dreamers of colour dreams and we need not stop here but continue connecting and give Southern Africa all the attention and show its beautiful as far as art is concerned,” he said.
Through these collections, Likongwe has also shown that he is passionate about theatre and thus he wants to give it all the attention it deserves.