Encore as Zim­bab­weans can at last laugh lustily at the Mu­gabes on stage

Sunday Tribune - - FRONT PAGE - PETA THORNYCROFT

FOR the first time Zim­bab­weans can laugh at Robert Mu­gabe on stage with­out wor­ry­ing they may be ar­rested or the play banned.

In a new and dar­ing com­edy about the soft coup d’état in Harare in Novem­ber, au­di­ences have packed the the­atre and are con­vulsed with laugh­ter as they watch ac­tress Carol Ma­gena play­ing Grace Mu­gabe, tee­ter­ing around on the stage, try­ing to se­duce the army com­man­der, while her frail 93-yearold old hus­band, Robert Mu­gabe, played by Mike Banda, is slumped in his chair, asleep.

The play opens when Mu­gabe is un­der house ar­rest after the mil­i­tary has taken over, and Grace is shriek­ing at any­one who will lis­ten that she wants to leave Zim­babwe im­me­di­ately and go to Dubai, her favourite shop­ping des­ti­na­tion.

Play­wright Charles Mun­ganasa has writ­ten a hi­lar­i­ous script of what he imag­ines the first cou­ple would be say­ing to one an­other in their man­sion, pop­u­larly known as Blue Roof, and to the army com­man­der, Con­stantino Chi­wenga, shortly after it took power.

Ma­gena said she was hav­ing the “time of her life” as the for­mer first lady who emerged into Zim­babwe’s po­lit­i­cal arena three years ago and hatched a plan to in­herit the top job.

She said it was easy to por­tray Grace, both phys­i­cally and emo­tion­ally, as she had been on state television reg­u­larly.

“She en­sured all were on TV.

“We saw that she was a phe­nom­e­nal char­ac­ter who al­most overnight was in the spot­light. Ev­ery­one was talk­ing about her. She is un­pre­dictable, er­ratic, volatile, even crazy.

“She said any­thing that came into her head. We watched as she dom­i­nated the me­dia, get­ting peo­ple fired, in­sult­ing se­nior her meet­ings peo­ple. She was call­ing the shots – she was in con­trol of Zim­babwe.”

The re­al­ity was that Mu­gabe, pushed by his wife, sacked his loyal vice-pres­i­dent, Em­mer­son Mnan­gagwa in Oc­to­ber and he, be­liev­ing he would be ar­rested or killed, fled across the bor­der to Mozam­bique, then to South Africa.

His loyal mil­i­tary ally Gen­eral Chi­wenga moved a few di­lap­i­dated tanks into town, took over the state broad­caster and sur­rounded Mu­gabe’s man­sion.

And with lim­ited vi­o­lence and a few ar­rests, that was the end of Mu­gabe’s long and ul­ti­mately ru­inous 37 years in power.

Tens of thou­sands of peo­ple cel­e­brated in the streets all over the coun­try when he re­signed and Mnan­gagwa re­turned home and was sworn into of­fice.

Mun­ganasa says he used both facts and his imag­i­na­tion to cre­ate the story.

“We did this play for the ben­e­fit of fu­ture gen­er­a­tions – so that the the­atre can doc­u­ment his­tory with creative ap­peal for an au­di­ence from all walks of life, us­ing com­edy to com­mu­ni­cate so that peo­ple can dis­cuss po­lit­i­cal events and laugh.”

The play’s short three-day run was sold out and has been ex­tended this week by pop­u­lar de­mand. It closed on Fri­day but is ex­pected to tour Zim­babwe and South Africa.

Mun­ganasa said the play de­stroyed Mu­gabe’s legacy.

“He was lost within his own po­lit­i­cal camp and he thought he was un­touch­able and in­vin­ci­ble and he sur­ren­dered power to his wife.”

He called the play Op­er­a­tion Re­store Re­gasi, be­cause Chi­wenga (played by Mun­ganasa) can­not pro­nounce the letter “L” in English and uses “R” in­stead.

The army’s cam­paign to oust Mu­gabe was called Op­er­a­tion Re­store Legacy.

Mun­ganasa told the me­dia, with a laugh this week, that he hoped re­tired gen­eral Chi­wenga, who is now vice-pres­i­dent of Zim­babwe, never has to say the word “elec­tions” in pub­lic.

“We had a fab­u­lous last night. It was stand­ing-room only and so many peo­ple were laugh­ing so much,” Mun­ganasa said.

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