Umunthu reawakens July 20 2011 events

Rafiq Hajat

Umunthu Theatre, led by actor and playwright Bright Chayachaya, on Saturday treated Theatre in Mandala platform to their production, Sometimes in July, which was inspired by events that led to demonstrations on July 20 2011 during late Bingu wa Mutharika’s reign.

Theatre in Mandala is a stage created with an aim of giving an opportunity to theatre practitioners to showcase their productions but also get critiqued.

With the two previous outings taking place indoors at Jacaranda Cultural Centre (JCC) in Blantyre, this time activity was moved outdoors at the same venue as a Covid measure with less than 50 people in attendance.


On a cold Saturday afternoon, the audience followed the production with keen interest as Umunthu returned to the stage after sometime.

Being the month of July where the country remembers July 20 demonstrations where some people lost their lives, the theatre group decided to resurrect the issues through the play.

The piece gives an account of what led to the demonstrations and it did not skip issues of corruption, nepotism and poverty.


Chayachaya said when he met the curator of Theatre in Mandala, Tawonga Taddja Nkhonjera, on staging a play, Sometimes in July came up taking into consideration that such issues are still relevant.

“It feels good to be back where you belong, we belong to the stage. For the past two or so years, the stage has been cold but coming back at least we have warmed it up,” Chayachaya said.

He said it is now 10 years since the July 20 demonstrations and they thought of bringing to light what happened.

Before the audience sampled the production, activist Rafiq Hajat, who was the guest of honour, dished out two poetries also bordering on July 20 2011 events.

Hajat during a question-and-answer session also shared his vivid recollections of what happened that time as one of the leaders that organised the demonstrations.

He spoke about where we are now as a nation, adding that Malawi is still fighting social injustices and inequalities.

Hajat hailed Umunthu for the production as well as using theatre to tackle such issues.

“I can see that fire is still burning. Things haven’t changed that much; there are small changes and we have got a very long way to go. What the actors were describing was a milestone and there are many more milestones to be covered,” he said.

Nkhonjera said Umunthu brought a production relevant to what the country is going through at the moment.

He said, with Covid, they thought of not postponing the event but rather devising a circle theatre performance of the play and then host it outdoors.

“People were killed during July 20 demonstrations; the blood of those people still runs. We have watched a very good presentation of the play. This is a story that affects every Malawian and this story will continue to live in the annals of our history,” Nkhonjera said.

One of the people who patronised the performance, Victor Chipofya Jr, hailed Nkhonjera for what he described as a great initiative.

He said he is looking forward to many more and prayed that Hajat’s dream to establish a trust that will support the families of people who died on July 20 2011 comes true.

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