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Stage scripts that come to life

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SET THE PACE—Du Chisiza Junior

We cannot call to mind anyone who resembles him professional wise: That is, Du Chisiza Junior.

But Thlupego Chisiza’s knack for ridiculing follies that are associated with citizens’ blind loyalty for politicians and policymakers is something that resembles Du Chisiza Junior’s disdain for blind affection.

Indeed, while the world has an assortment of choices, the precise genius of Thlupego is found in his choice of theatre as his area of pursuit. He could have opted for other areas of specialisation but play-acting tickled his fancy.

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And, unlike his father Du— who had to circumvent censure by pointing at wrongs in parables— Thlupego’s greatest supply of daring spirit comes in undisguised forms.

It seems like, having realised that politicians are a hard nut to crack and, at the same time, the easiest target when singled out for ridicule and chastisement in public, his best product— in terms of courage, boldness and anger – yet remains Go To Hell Mr President. This is a 2012 production.

Go To Hell Mr President is not a theatrical masterpiece; it is a platform, some sort of people’s Parliament.

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Whether it is coincidental that a cast from his Lions Theatre Theatre performed it only him knows, but it takes a man with a lion’s heart to call a sitting president ‘stupid’, albeit in theatrical terms.

Go To Hell Mr President came immediately after his other play, Semo, had landed him in trouble with the censorship authorities.

Coincidentally, and odd enough, Go To Hell Mr President is set seven years from its year of first performance (March 26 2012). This means events taking place in this 2012 play take place in 2019.

What happened in 2019, this time in real life? Demonstrators, led by Human Rights Defenders Coalition, told a sitting president to “go to hell” through incessant public demonstrations.

Here were demonstrations inspired by anger— this must be ‘just’ anger because the justice system, the Judiciary, justified the demonstrators’ anger by invalidating results of the May 21 2019 presidential election.

This was after UTM leader Saulos Chilima and Malawi Congress Party leader Lazarus Chakwera had petitioned the High Court – sitting as a Constitutional Court— to nullify results of the presidential election.

The court played game, invalidating the election on the basis that there were “widespread irregularities”, a decision validated by the Supreme Court of Appeal.

As events were playing out in the courts, the country’s citizens were busy, on the streets, shouting all sorts of things, all of which can be summarised through the title of Thlupego’s play Go To Hell Mr President.

The play is premised on— in Thlupego’s words— the question “What do Malawians want?”

But, somehow, despite its prophetic nature, Go To Hell Mr President is also steeped in the reality of the time of production (2012), when Malawi— the real country and not the fictitious country in the play— has a male president in the name of Bingu wa Mutharika and female vice president namely Joyce Banda.

It is the same case with Go To Hell Mr President, as the play has, in its cast, a male president and female vice president.

Coincidentally— Maybe Go to Hell Mr President is a play of coincidences— the president can only sire daughters [he actually has one daughter, his only child] while his deputy can only bear male children (of course, she only has one son).

That is how politics and love intertwine because the daughter and son fall head over heels in love, only for the lovers to find themselves in a quandary when president and vice president agree to disagree permanently. They cannot eat from the same plate. The old love gives way to newfound hate and the centre cannot hold.

Finger-pointing quickly becomes the name of the game.

But, maybe, the consternation is only a public gesture because, in real life, the president’s daughter and vice president’s son continue to enjoy conjugal rights, to the extent that the daughter falls pregnant.

The president wants the pregnancy terminated but his wish is not granted, even when he storms into the hospital to force his daughter to terminate the pregnancy.

Here [this is in 2012], too, Thlupego is being prophetic. The rejection of the president’s proposal that his daughter procure an abortion is a reflection of what happened in real Malawi on March 11 2021, when, ironically, members of Parliament [who often lick the boots of their party leaders] shot down the tabling of the Abortion Bill, throwing into jeopardy the future of the legislation.

Chitipa South Constituency lawmaker Werani Chilenga had moved a motion to allow Chiradzulu West parliamentarian Matthews Ngwale to table the bill, which sought to bring additional circumstances through which abortion services could be procured in the country.

Currently, the law only allows medical doctors to carry out an abortion when the pregnancy threatens the life of the mother.

The bill was, among other things, asking Parliament to authorise other circumstances for carrying out an abortion including on pregnancies that come as a result of rape and incest.

“That, having noted that the Malawi Penal Code allows for the termination of a pregnancy only if the life of a mother is at risk, and observing that there are ever increasing numbers of justifiable situations for the termination of unwanted pregnancies which have not been covered by existing laws, this House grants leave to the Honourable Member for Chiradzulu West to introduce a Private Member’s Bill, Termination of Pregnancy Bill, which, when passed by this House, would expand grounds for safe abortion,” reads part of the motion for the bill.

But when the motion to table the bill was brought to the floor, lawmakers shouted a resounding no to the proposal to table it.

Leader of the House Richard Chimwendo Banda said the House made a clear statement on the matter when it rejected the motion for tabling the bill.

“The bill has been coming to Parliament for the past eight months and today members of Parliament have overwhelmingly said they don’t even want to discuss it. The good thing is that even members of the opposition were in agreement that the bill should not be discussed,” Chimwendo Banda told reporters.

Mwanza Central legislator Nicholas Dausi hailed parliamentarians for shooting down the bill and preserving the sacredness of life.

Last year, the country’s religious leaders under the Episcopal Conference of Malawi, Muslim Association of Malawi, Qadria Muslim Association of Malawi, Malawi Council of Churches and the Evangelical Association of Malawi spoke vehemently against the proposed Bill to increase the number of reasons for abortion.

Leader of the Catholic Church, Archbishop Thomas Msusa, said human life is sacred because God created people in His own image and likeness.

“We read in Jeremiah 1:5 that, before I formed you in the womb, I knew you; before you came to birth I consecrated you. As such, human life must be preserved and protected with extreme care from conception.

“No institution, including Parliament, courts, the Executive arm of government and non-governmental organisations or foreign agencies have the legal right to terminate life except God. Abortion is immoral and sinful because it is against God’s commandments,” Msusa said.

But, in Go To Hell Mr President, the president is involved in a car crash and dies. The news shocks the daughter, whose mighty heart is stilled at last. It is a tragic story where father and daughter— and the unborn child— perish because of a misunderstanding.

Like in the play, the misunderstanding now is about Termination of Pregnancy Bill. After all, the misunderstanding on 2019 presidential election results was resolved by the courts.

It could be time Prophet Thlupego came up with another play that brings answers to today’s head-cracking questions.

After all, nobody wants to be troubled with an uneasy consciousness that serves only as fertile ground for awkwardness and confusion.

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