IN 1997, NATAAZ made history by sending a group of theatrical artists; Butondo Secondary School from Mufulira, Kitwe Little Theatre and a community popular theatre ensemble from the Zambia Popular Theatre Association (ZAPOTA) to the SADC Maputo Theatre Festival in Mozambique.
Delegation leader, the late Edmond Ngula who then was National Arts Council vice chairperson and NATAAZ chairperson reported on return that Zambian artists won accolades which later were to see some of them attend another festival in Zimbabwe and South Africa.
Butondo Secondary Scool was then a lively school in drama as the once upon a time Mukuba Secondary School in Kitwe – sadly, what has gone wrong is unexplainable.
On the other hand, NATAAZ from inception was not wholesomely received by little theatres especially on the Copperbelt, but a meeting held in 1998 at Kitwe Little Theatre with NATAAZ officials began to buoy activities. This meeting lead to issues to do with the constitution and a follow up meeting was later held in Kabwe.
In the same year, a junior theatre festival was hosted by the Lusaka Provincial NATAAZ committee at Evelyn Hone College. Trouble was not absent during this festival!
Mufulira Secondary School pupils rose against their two patrons following the performance, the pupils did not want to leave as demanded by the teachers – so the teachers left and left the pupils stranded after the festival.
Later, the senior theatre festival was held at Chingola Arts society (CAS) with a record fifteen theatre groups across the country attending the festival.
One of the positive attributes of this event was that most of the plays staged were written by indigenous Zambians or had African themes on plots.
In 1997 NATAAZ realised the ‘death’ of females in theatre, and therefore, drafted a programme to promote the women folk who were an important resource to the development of theatre. This forum was dubbed Women in Theatre.
The core objective of this programme was to uplift the standards of women in script writing, directing, adjudicating, acting and administrative skills.
Women in Theatre as a programme cannot be said to have succeeded apart from a handful of women like Matilda Malamamfumu; there have been very few women that have stood up, and remained actively engaged in theatre.
Theatre on the other hand generally is assumed a man’s arena in Africa – this is the creed and perception that must be fought.
The 2000 junior festival went to David Livingstone Teachers Training College recording indiscipline at its level ebb.
The sad part of the festival was the riotous behaviour by Masala Secondary School after disputing the results.
NATAAZ had to call the police to calm the situation with some pupils arrested and detained – sad story indeed.
Chief adjudicator was the late veteran theatre artist Alex Dzama Banda, then chairperson of Mufulira Little Theatre.
During the same festival in Livingstone, the provincial chairperson for Central Province was suspended for failure to remit the funds which schools were supposed to be paid to NEC.
Following the ‘condemned’ Livingstone festival a pressure group emerged and it was championed by the late Trevor Botha of Tagwamo Theatre and late Nicholas Mwila.
However, the pressure group was diffused by the NAC subcommittee chaired by Wina Kanyembo after it was discovered the pressure group was being championed by non-members of NATAAZ.
Further, in 2003 the pressure mounted on the formation of an arts association for schools during the junior festival held at Chongwe.
In 2007, a big blow knocked NATAAZ off, NORAD; the major sponsors withdrew funding ending the unsuccessful Women in Theatre project, largely a huge component in the funding.
In 2008 the Junior NATAAZ festival failed to take place, essentially because schools had formed a splinter arts association called Colleges and Schools Arts Association of Zambia (COSAAZ) to cater for institutional drama.
The following year COSAAZ, unfortunately, was temporarily diffused, but later in 2012 the Ministry of Education decided to handle institutional arts affairs and formed the National Schools Arts Association of Zambia (NASAAZ) – a negation on the part of NATAAZ whose large membership came from schools.
Moreover, NASAAZ was a nigh replica of NATAAZ in nearly all the areas which included fine arts; paintings, drawings and sculptures. NATAAZ lost a national character and face after the departure of schools – membership became an excuse for nearly all the failures.
NATAAZin the last 30 years has had eight conventions since inception in 1988, 1994, 1999, 2001, 2003, 2005, 2009 and 2013.
All the conventions have been held in Kabwe apart from the 2005 which was held at Kambule Secondary School in Mongu and the 2009 held at Sambalaya Lodge in Lusaka.
The first executive committee had a mandate of four years in line with the NAC Act but in 1999 the term of office was reduced to three.
Throughout the years NATAAZ has been led by what I would safely describe as big brains in theatre; the late Kabwe Kasoma, late Edward Ngula, late Danny ‘Sausande’ Kanengoki and late Augustine Lungu. Others have been Prof Dickson Mwansa, Edward Lange, Jimmy Lungu, and Boy Chibale to mention but a few.
Sadly, the constitution, an absolute institutional decree was last amended in February, 1999 (17 years ago) during the convention held at Mulungushi Motel in Kabwe. Much later, efforts to amend the constitution have failed, and NAC will need to stand up and help!
Lusaka-based theatre forecaster Mike Tembo, whose background dates back to the mid-70s in Kabwe and the musical Kalicheli by the late Kwaleyela Ikafa; in his statement described NATAAZ saying, “In 2001 the association lost an office to ASSITEJ and 15 years down the memory lane NATAAZ has remained a brief case organisation. I look forward to when the association will have a fulltime secretariat.”
“One of the major achievements NATAAZ has scored is the uplifting of theatre standards compared to the yester years looking at the plays today.”
Agreeably, it’spitiful; 30 years down the line, very little has significantly been achievedeven though with the ‘big’ brains, the National Arts Council was born from NATAAZ’s initiatives!
However, even with countless potential NATAAZ has had, it has not been easy to fully realize its intended dreams and goals due to constraints one of which is inadequate funding; commitment and skillful administration.
Meanwhile, news of Gift Muneka, a National Executive Committee member of the national team of NATAAZ was last week taken ill at Levy Mwanawasa hospital.
Efforts to get in touch with her have continuously failed. Gift,a freelance theatre artist, like her name suggests is a gifted young actress whose prominence is highly noticeable in African-related plays such as Mulenga Kapwepwe’s Longo in which she starred as one of the strong female advisers performed by Mwansabombwe Theatre Ensemble! NATAAZ vice chairperson Saul Sakala who has visited Gift in hospital confirmed Gift who is a committee member was steadily improving and would be fine soon.
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