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Writing the unwritten

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By Sam Banda Jnr:

PRESERVATION—Likongwe holding the book

Theatre maestro Du Chisiza Jr wrote a lot of plays, some of which could have been turned into films today but a few were recorded with the rest still undocumented.

There are several plays which have been written by different playwrights in the country but the works are not documented.

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The country has, therefore, failed to preserve some of its works.

There are very few works on the ground which have been preserved for use.

This is what brings us to the story of veteran and renowned dramatist Smith Likongwe, who has made positive steps to document some of the works speaking volumes of different characters important to the country.

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As a lecturer of drama at Chancellor College, University of Malawi, he has laid the pitch and set the ball rolling for others to follow by publishing some of his plays but also taking interest in creating plays for the country’s former presidents including the late Hastings Kamuzu Banda.

Smith has been fast enough in his works and has seen him publishing close to four books now, the latest being Kamuzu Banda and Other Plays.

Kamuzu Banda and Other Plays comes barely a year after Smith launched another book Southern African Plays Collection.

In publishing the plays, Smith has shown his passion for drama, which has of late not been that vibrant.

With over 150 stage, radio and television scripts to his credit, Smith said he has been wanting to write a play about Kamuzu since 1998 when he was involved in a British Council in Malawi project that brought together several actors to assemble a play on Julius Caesar.

He said that Toby Gough, a Briton, was the Director with him, a Malawian, as Assistant Director and that this combination resulted in the production of ‘The African Julius Caesar’.

Smith said the director and his assistant also took part in the play with Smith playing Mark Antony and Toby playing multiple roles with the production touring Malawi, Zambia and then the United Kingdom.

“There was nothing wrong doing a play about Julius Caesar but what was worrying me throughout the time for rehearsals and then all the performances was the fact that Malawi actually had a colossal character in the name of Kamuzu Banda whose story would interest not only Malawian audiences but also those in neighbouring countries,” Smith said.

He described Kamuzu as a giant of world repute whose story was yet to be told in a dramatic form.

“For how long are we going to remain an oral society and pretend we have not had characters of the calibre of Julius Caesar, Macbeth, Pericles, Coriolanus, Cleopatra and others in our society? Who was going to tell their stories?,” asked the playwright.

He said this tingled him so much that, from that time, he kept on thinking about writing a play about the then His Excellency the Life President of the Republic of Malawi, Ngwazi Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda, B.Phil (Chicago), MB (Meharry), Licentiate of the Royal College of Physicians (Edin.), Licentiate of the Royal College of Surgeons (Edin.) Licentiate of the Royal Faculty of Physicians and Surgeons (Glas.), destroyer of the federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, mchikumbe number one, etc.

“I am happy to be finally launching Kamuzu Banda and Other Plays in Blantyre and Lilongwe. The main play in the book is Kamuzu Banda, the country’s former head of state and the other plays are Mission to Nyanjania, Stop the Fire and Love and Tears,” Smith said.

According to him, the Kamuzu Banda play is a story that chronicles the life of Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda, the first President of the Republic of Malawi from his arrival from Kumasi, Ghana on July 6 up to his death on November 25 1997.

He said the story showcases Nyasaland’s struggle for freedom among other challenges and successes such as Operation Sunrise and Kamuzu and other politicians’ imprisonment in Gweru Prison, the 1964 cabinet crisis, the new breed of ministers and some of their operations.

“The play also looks at Kamuzu’s rise to absolute power, operations of the Malawi Congress Party through the Youth League, the fulfillment of Gweru dreams such as the establishment of the University of Malawi, the movement of the capital city to Lilongwe, the establishment of Admarc and other developmental areas”, the playwright said.

He said that the play facilitates the spirit of patriotism, national unity and loyalty to the country as well as fostering identification of “who we are as a nation”.

In Stop the Fire, Smith said the play tackles the issue of HIV in a subtle but very honest way and that it deals with reasons why people still get infected with HIV in spite of the knowledge.

“The major characters are University graduates who discover their HIV statuses just as they are about to wed. The question is; should they go on with the wedding? The play also deals with the wrong perception of women and girls as sex weapons,” he said.

In Love and Tears, Smith said the play deals with three different cultures and tribes namely; Ngoni, Tonga and Yao.

He said the play encourages readers to embrace their culture and know the traditions of other cultures for them to live in harmony.

In the book, there is also Mission to Nyanjania which is a play that takes place in future with two scenes taking place in 2100 on Mars and one in 2090 on earth.

His general motivation to publish the book stems from the fact that Malawi has always been rich in the production of plays but most of the plays go unrecorded and eventually disappear in the dustbin of history.

“Without throwing the blame to anybody it is important to state that as writers we need to take some of the responsibility as we have hidden the lamp of literature that we produce. We have kept many scripts unwritten,” Smith said.

He said there are many oral play scripts out there and that such scripts have made it big on the performance stage.

“This work is work that has matured. Kamuzu written from 2012 to 2013. Mission to Nyanjania in 1995 a unique sci-fi play like no other while Love and Tears was written in 2004,” he said.

With lots of unwritten and also written but unpublished, Smith described Malawi as one of the countries with very minimal contributions in terms of creative written works.

“Lots of research was involved in the Kamuzu play in order to give audiences a true, detailed and unbiased but creative account of the Kamuzu legacy,” he said.

Smith said he is happy that through the works he has so far published, he has motivated other players such as Zambian celebrated playwright Dr Cheela Chilala to publish more.

“He is going to collect his works too and publish and together we shall do another regional collection of plays so there is a change,” he said.

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