Zambia @ 50: Only one book for plays
Published On October 29, 2014 » 3786 Views» By Administrator Times » Features
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By JOHN KAPESA –

PROFESSOR Dickson Mwansa, whose history in theatre dates back to the 60s in Kitwe and at Bakanda Theatre has published a book of plays; A Family Question and Other Plays to beef up the literature and reading levels.
And he has thanked all those he worked with producing the plays on stage, saying he valuably appreciated them for uplifting his plays.
The book is the second major one on the Zambian scene, the first being The Five Plays from Zambia published in the late 70s. I know there have been single publications like David Kerr’s Mateo Sakala, and others though not popular plays.
Generally, the infrequency of local reading materials be it short stories, novels, poems and plays in Zambia is noticeably a stomach-turning issue.
This is why when the Patriotic Front Government re-introduced the new school curriculum and the teaching in familiar local languages in the early grades, I jumped up in applause as this will hugely help enable children in similarly lower grades to endeavor reading.
It is lack of a good reading culture among Zambians that the publishers have shunned publishing books as unviable business.
However, the subject of teaching in learners’ familiar local languages has become emotive, understandably the teaching and learning of vowels is the right thing, and indeed those of us involved in literary works are excited and pleased that our publications will perhaps now find a reader.
Furthermore, young learners are often seriously engaged when it appears as though they are playing.
Early in the 1960s, the Zambian school curriculum followed behind the British and memorable are books that carried short plays. The Oxford books by the Oxford University had plays, and majority of the local actors and actresses are drawn from that background.
Ackson Tembo, a literature follower of Zambian materials admitted in an interview that the Oxford University captured writers from all over Africa, but none came from Zambia.
“Zambia has not excelled in the literary circles because of certain inhibitions, yet we have had good writers like Andreya Masiye, Stephen Mpashi, RK Kambole, Gideon Phiri and the late Julius Chongo and others,” Ackson said citing several literary activities if well promoted could have seen the uplifting of works in Zambia.
Ackson said Joseph Kabwe’s Ifyabukaya and Omond Musonda in Kiswapako among other vernacular programmes just like Play Circles and other vernacular writers could have made Zambia a different country in the literary arts today.
“Zambia has lagged behind because we have had no role models to look up to like Kenya, Zimbabwe and Nigeria have.
We needed realistic stories that we could relate our lives to and Play Circle was one such programme that entertained and educated the public. We lost out when those programmes were phased out and with less worthwhile programmes,” Ackson, a former chairperson of the Southern African Theatre Institute (SATI) lamented.
Ackson, the Chingola-based animator chronicled that the movie industry was fast catching up as a money earner. In comparison to Hollywood, Nigeria has the Nollywood, Gollywood from Ghana, and the Bollywood from India. What is the film industry in Zambia called?
Ackson pointed out that with a vast rich folklore and a history of culture and stories written in like Pio na Vera, Shalapo Chani Chandala, Musalu Walipesamba, Nkobekela te cupo and Uwauma na Fyala.
Others are Ukupoka Icinsenda ku Nkoko, Uluse lwalile Inkwale, Cekesoni Aingila Ubusoja.
Zambia’s art, fine, theatre and literature have seemingly been neglected.
In theatre for instance, there are very few renowned published works; Mateo Sakala a play by David Kerr chronicles Zambian life even though it was written by two foreigners. The other is the Five Zambian Plays, and then Prof Dickson Mwansa’s The Family Question and Other Plays.
By and large, it is fact that in Zambia, plays even though popular at lower grades in school, are roundly unpopular both for the elderly boys and girls in school and the community – drama has always gone begging with theatre houses along the line of rail literary struggling to attain and sustain full houses.
We really need to belabor harder on this issue and schools, colleges and universities should intensify popularising drama so that this can transform on to the rest of the community.
In developed countries, drama is a vital recreation through which history is conserved; culture, entertainment and education are provided.
‘The Family Question and Other Plays’ is a great additional injection to try and popular the drama-culture in Zambia.
The last we had a book of Zambian plays is way back in the early eighties, nothing has been published ever since and that book is nowhere as there has been no revision and reprinting.
Professor Mwansa is a good playwright and has been associated with Zambian theatre for many years. He is former chairperson for the Zambia National Theatre Arts Association (ZANTAA) from 1982-86, Secretary General of the International Theatre Institute (1983-86), first Secretary General of the National Theatre Arts Association of Zambia (NATAAZ) from 1986-88 and was a recipient of the Chairman’s Award during the 2000 Ngoma Awards for outstanding contribution to the development of performing arts in Zambia, and is a life member at Lusaka Theatre Club for which he wrote most of the plays.
He is the author of Zambian Theatre from Traditional Arts to Movements for Cultural Expression and three other books on education.
‘The Family Question and other Plays’ is a collection of eight life-changing plays published by xlibris Publishing Company a partner of Penguin Books; the plays are The Cell, The Family Question, The Headmaster and the Rascals, Father Kalo and the Virus, Builder and Destroyers, Save the Villa, Three Burdens and the Colourless Woman and For the Love of Boya.
The eight plays represent classical works in Zambian theatre written between 1973 and 1999 and some of them have been prize winners.
The Cell was the best play for the 1979 ZANTAA festival and received special mention in the Theatre Association of Zambia (TAZ) festival of the same year.
First Republican President Dr Kenneth Kaunda watched ‘The Cell’ in 1979 and described it as an eye opener.
When again he watched ‘The Family Question’ in 1989, he made a big donation that refurbished the Lusaka Theatre Club and gave a job to Wesley Kaonga, who was the main actor because of the impact the play had on him and the other leaders who accompanied him.
The Cell portrays characteristics of a prison and society humourlessly juxtaposed as Nkrumah observed no man or woman is born a criminal but society moulds such characters.
The play has been reviewed in books and journals, while The Family Question was the best play for the NATAAZ festival in 1989 and was performed in Detroit, USA, subsequently published by Bedford publishers in Chicago USA in 1991 as one of the best plays by Africans.
The Family Question deals with experiences of returnees from the diaspora through whose eyes the blues and joys of a country in transition to higher level of development is judged as well as the alienation of the returnees’ experiences.
The Headmaster and the Rascals was the best play for the NATAAZ festival in 1999 and was employed by the Ministry of Education to show challenges school administrators faced in dealing with discipline, governance and financial management. It toured schools the Copperbet and Lusaka provinces.
Father Kalo and the Virus was a campaign play that entertained and spurred many people for behaviour change in its multifaceted tackling of the complexity of the disease of HIV and AIDS as well as tensions raised between modern and traditional medicine in the quest for a cure.
Sponsored by the John Hopkins School of Medicine in the USA and the Ministry of Health in Zambia, the play toured the whole county.
In Builders and Destroyers, the playwright explores the divisive nature of ethnicity whose stranglehold is defeated by the love between two young people whose love rises above prejudice.
Save the Villa is about crime in a country where poverty and affluence lie side by side. It is a hilarious drama, while in The Three Burdens and the Colourless Woman, Prof Mwansa raises the triumph in an interracial love relationship exposing jealousy, envy and race.
The professor said the sale of the book will further enable him to produce the second volume of the remaining eight other plays.
Prof Mwansa ended by saying, “My appreciations are to various colleagues who produced, directed, acted and watched some of the plays.”

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