Walter Maparutsa

Walter Mapurutsa. Photo by Mai Palmberg

"So much anger and frustration"

Walter Mapurutsa was born in 1941 in Manicaland, St. Augustine 's Mission farm. He works with theatre productions.

How far back does your work with theatre go?

As far back as the 1960s, during Smith's time I was arrested. I was already doing plays—actually, I adapted because that time you could not just write. In Rhodesia you could not just write, so what I did was because I was working for a government department, it was called Literature Bureau under the Ministry of Education, I worked for them for ten years. It was an establishment that was sort of like encouraging in a way a separate development in writing. It was sort of like a very Apartheid kind of thing to say "You write in your vernacular" and so on. Editors had then the task of translating chapter by chapter, almost like literal translations so that the masters would know what you were writing.

I adapted some of the novels into play lets. I remember I had problems with one book where the black foreman at a farm beat the European farm owner. They said: "No, this will incite blacks to beat up whites, the black man must be beaten by the white person".

I got into lots of problems. But parents were Christians. They belonged to the Church of England, Anglican Church. And I served at Mass, I was in the choir, I belonged to the Anglican Youth Fellowship. So the former Chief Justice of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, Sir Robert Tredgold, whose sister was running the missionary station in Mbare in Harare , was very close to my family. Each time I got into trouble they'd come to my rescue. That saved me a lot of problems. He always came to my rescue because he believed that Walter would never do things like this.

And eventually my father got tired of some of the problems that I was causing and I got shipped to St Augustine 's Mission , a boarding school.

I come from the Eastern Districts, I come from Manicaland, I come from a dynasty, It is very clear, I know my background, I can actually go back and trace it back, and not that I use that to gain anything but It is nice to know who I am and there are certain things culturally that we cherish and things like that.

I could be one of them really high up there, but when I saw these people stealing I decided: "No, I will have nothing to do with it". Today it is very difficult. I meet some of the chaps high up, I just say "Hello" and there's no conversation. There's nothing to talk about because short of saying "What the hell do you think you are doing?"

How do you see culture in the present situation in Zimbabwe?
The cultural perspectives of this country are very disturbing. In 22 years we have not succeeded in moulding a nation. If you look at the politics of this country you will find that everything is done on a regional or a tribal basis.

The churches are making efforts to unify people and get them to work together, but some among the clergy get compromised and subscribe to what the government is doing. The country is divided; we have Manicaland—named after a tribe from the East, Mashonaland—for the Zezurus and Korekores, Matabeleland —for the Matabeles. You ask yourself: “ What are we doing?" The situation is worrying because it probably springs from ulterior political motives. As long as the people are divided and this mess prevails, it is easy to manipulate them.

We have got a Ministry of Education, Sport and Culture. The fact that we have this ministry means that the Government must have thought that culture is important, but then what are they doing? It is not just drumming and dancing that enhances the culture. The curriculum in schools is devoid of cultural things. It is sort of like an extramural exercise that people do, kids do.

Another problem is fragmentation. Cultural matters such as literary and artistic issues—which should be dealt with by the Culture Department or Education Ministry—are spread over three ministries: Ministry of Education, Sports and Culture, Home Affairs, and Information. Jonathan Moyo has no proper ministry; he is a junior minister in the President's office. He is giving money directly to artists although he has no right to do so. That money should be channelled through the Ministry of Education, Sport and Culture to the parastatal National Arts Council and be given to the artist by the latter. He is compromising those artists and at the end of the day they actually cannot be non-aligned and speak their minds.

I don't mind doing something for the government as long as I know where I stand, because if they are wrong I will tell them, "This is wrong." If I am given money to keep quiet, I don't want that money. But the whole thing is worrying because you can receive that money in good faith and tomorrow they come and demand something of you. You have got to be a very strong person to say no and not give in. 

I saw the show Rags & Garbage . It was an excellent show. In your words, what did you want to express and how are you getting your message across?
I have got so much disappointment, so much anger and frustration and through this show I hoped through the madman, who is not actually a mad person, I could sort of like cleanse myself, bring out all these frustrations and say things, probably to prick people's consciences and get them to think and do something about some of these things. I am now thinking of doing a sort of sequence, The Oracle. The Oracle will be a one-man play, like Rags & Garbage .

The Oracle is basically about a man who has just destroyed everything and now he's got to give an account and make a confession. He tries to defend his actions, but all his counsellors and advisers are gathered around him, making him admit so that at least his spirit can be received in the other world. After everything he has done, he definitely needs a cleansing ceremony. He cannot die like that, because actually what heritage is he leaving to his kids?

I think he has got to confess—put everything on the table and say "Now, sorry, this and this". First, he's going to deny and then he will be told: "No, this year you did this, this year you did that and you did this in this area and this happened and so on.”

Who is going to protect you this time?
Well, this time I don't know. But for me I think I don't have any fears. I believe I need to do these things. I believe there's nothing wrong in telling the people in this form of art what I feel.

But is there a risk that your plays become a kind of city thing that do not concern the rural areas?
Well, this play renders itself to the vernacular very easily. If I were to do something for the rural areas I would have to fashion it in such a way that they can actually understand even some of the jokes that I am putting across. It is a very flexible play. I can take it to the village, I can perform it to a growth point and people will still enjoy it, but I will have to adjust it for rural consumption.

Have you taken it outside Harare?

I have toured all the provinces, giving one to three shows per province. I've been to Manikaland, Mashonaland East, Mashonaland Central, Mashonaland West and Masvingo, Midlands, Matabeleland South, Bulawayo Province , and Matabeleland North.

Did you see any difference in the reception?
Yes. The reactions in Manicaland, Masvingu and Midlands were almost the same. In Bulawayo there was more intensity, for instance, when I talked about the way Nkomo was abused. I could see it from people's faces.

Let us come back to the message in Rags & Garbage.

When I said in the play that I spoke to Herbert Citepo, Ndabanige Sithole and Joshua Nkomo, I am sort of saying this was a breed of true nationalists. And then you see they are buried together with some of these funny people from the new set-up and some have dubious backgrounds.* And I said to them "Do we dig up these funny people with funny backgrounds and dubious CVs and re-bury them in the new land resettlement programme?"

In Rags & Garbage I am basically saying that the history of Zimbabwe is going to be revisited and the truth written down one day. You cannot have a situation where newspapers are controlled and the people are not given the liberty to read what they want. The present land-reform programme reminds you both of the Stalinist era and what the whites did when they had the Land Apportionment Act and shifted people from here. People were thrown onto trucks and taken to some faraway places. We are doing exactly the same thing. It makes me very sad.

[Interview in Harare on November 14, 2002]

* The burying is a reference to the Heroes' Acre in Harare where the heroes of Zimbabwe 's liberation are buried and commemorated on the annual Heroes' Day.

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