Lusaka - Zambian playwright Dickson Mwansa says it’s imperative to document and preserve local literary works for posterity lest African children grow up thinking works such as those by William Shakespeare are the global standard for the written word and for theatre.
In an interview with The Southern Times, Mwansa said preservation of local literature was a key component of its promotion.
“I think Zambia has come of age and it is time we took stock of the indigenous works written by local writers, many of which have been performed either within the country or elsewhere at international festivals.”
Mwansa is the author of several critically acclaimed works, among them “The Cell”, “Father Kalo”, “The Family Question” and “The Headmaster and the Rascals”.
“The Family Question” was performed in Detroit and published in Chicago by Bedford Publishers in the United States; while “The Cell” has been glowingly reviewed in various journals and books. “Father Kalo” was commissioned by the Ministry of Health and Johns Hopkins School of Medicine as part of a campaign to spread awareness of HIV and AIDS. More recently, Mwansa has written a satire titled “In memory of Ponke Kaira”.
Among the themes he deals with are the alienation returnees from the diaspora experience, power and corruption, ethnicity, nepotism and marriage.
Mwansa’s plays are multilayered plays explorations that contain elements of the tragicomic with strong use of allegory.
Mike Tembo - a theatre administrator, artist and critic - agrees with Mwansa in the need to promote local literature.
“A documentation of indigenous local plays has been the call and cry of all Zambians in the theatre circles. In the past, plays like ‘Jesus Z Christ’ by David Wallace, ‘Soweto Flowers Will Grow’ (by Masauso Phiri) and ‘The People of Chimwemwe’ have proven that Zambia has great contributions to make to world literature.
“On the other hand, is it the theatre fraternity that has also failed to lure and convince audiences that they should part with money when it comes to local literature.”
Tembo says playwrights like Mwansa we’re better positioned to market their work globally because of their own personal circumstances, but the same could not be said of many talented writers.
Zambian literature has evolved over the decades and melds tradition, culture and contemporary considerations.
A rich history of oral tradition and the mixing of Zambia’s more than 70 ethnic groups all serve to give a fecund base for local literature and drama.
The colonial era created a theatre and literature sector that was dominated by Western themes and aesthetics, with the
then whites-only Northern Rhodesian Drama Association (later the Theatre Association of Zambia) being founded in 1952.
Over the years, several similarly-segregated theatre companies were established.
In 1958, there was a major breakthrough with the establishment of the multi-racial Waddington Theatre Club.
However, plays written by indigenous Zambians were routinely sidelined.
At independence, the University of Zambia Drama Society sought to mainstream indigenous writing, and from it sprang gems like the open air Chikwakwa Theatre and the journal
The Chikwakwa Review.
In 1975, Zambian National Theatre Arts Association, a black-led movement was formed to counter Theatre Arts of Zambia after discontent with the attitude of its predominantly white leadership towards non-western writing.
In 1986 the two were merged.