Gonzo Musengezi’s play “The Honourable MP: A Play” uses satire and wit to capture Zimbabwe’s post-independence socio-political and economic situation.
It captures the newly independent Zimbabwe being ravaged by politicians who syphon wealth out of the country, abuse young girls, disappear from the public’s eye and only appear towards elections campaigning for more votes.
With a careful, shrewd yet artistic use of language, Musengezi exposes the corrupt nature of the pot-belly politicians evident throughout Africa and how their crocked ways hinder a country’s economic advancement.
Political satire in drama found its way in Zimbabwean literature with many writers adopting the style of writing to express their concern over black rule and its adoption of the nationalist concept. Such plays include Dambudzo Marechera’s short story “The Toilet” in the anthology “Mindblast” (1984) and Cont Mhlanga’s “Workshop Negative” (1992).
Born in 1960 Gonzo H. Musengezi is a Zimbabwean writer popularly known for his Shona novel “Zvairwadza vasara” (1984).
Published four years after Zimbabwe’s independence in 1984, Musengezi’s “The Honourable MP” falls under post-independence protest literature that highlights and examines the shortcomings of independence through the emergence of the elite group that rose to power soon after independence.
Musengezi embodies this truism through the character Honourable Shakespeare Pfende, a Member of Parliament who lives lavishly at the expense of the masses who live in poverty. Pfende is elected to parliament by the people to become their mouth in parliament, but during the drought, the people realise that Pfende has abandoned them in pursuit of the wealth that power has placed within his reach.
Because of his elevated status, Pfende becomes untouchable and openly displays his lack of compassion for the people as well as his non-nationalistic stance as depicted in his conversation with the teacher.
Teacher: When will people like you become true nationalists?
Pfende: I will become a socialist when I want.
Issues raised in the play conform to the ideas of Ngugi wa Thiongo, Franz Fanon, Amilcar Cabral, among others, in their portrayal of betrayal of independence promises, especially by leaders of the revolution and political leaders in general.
“The Honourable MP” explores the moral, social and political rot of government officials as epitomised by Pfende, who uses government funds meant for public development to finance his extravagant lifestyle as shown by his number of cars, houses and other properties. One character in the play questions the essence of electing the MP saying:
“Our problem number one is that we have no MP. We sent him to the city, what did he bring us? Nothing. He went to build himself a big European house like that in Bharama’s (whiteman) farm... And bought himself many cars. Now, we realise we sent a fly into a pot of milk. It got drowned in the feast.”
The play offers an in-depth evaluation of African leaders with their corrupt nature being fully exposed and captured in the songs and slogan by the protesting workers.
In “Wretched of the Earth”, Fanon blames the failings of nationalism on the “intellectual laziness of the middle class”. The native bourgeoisie rises to power only in-so-far as it seeks to replicate the bourgeoisie of the “mother country” that sustains colonial rule.
It cannot be in doubt that the plays, particularly “The Honourable MP”, borrows a lot from Ngugi wa Thiongo’s “I Will Marry When I Want” in that it is didactic and appeals to the masses to rely on their strength and build a better future.
“Smugglers of national wealth…greedy capitalist who take government trips abroad for shopping sprees…who impregnate young/small girls and throw them in the street, grabbers of wealth from our motherland. Long live the peasants long live the peasants/long live the workers.”
Immaculate Pfende also takes after her husband, the MP, in taking part in corrupt and rather criminal acts as she smuggles video cassette players and expensive Japanese-made radio televisions from Japan into the country for resale at very high prices.
Pfende and his wife also sold gold and emeralds worthy US$70,000 to Pfende’s unnamed Kenyan friend. Such acts of corruption are exhibited throughout the play US$30,000 is discovered in Pfende’s mansion.
In analysing satirical political drama in Zimbabwe, writer and literary critic Memory Chirere (2013) derides the new African elite and their local and international white racists and corrupt associates for not showing responsibility in their exercise of power and business.
Musengezi’s play connects the social rot of the country with the international culture of political leaders of downplaying the potentials of Zimbabwe and uphold the success and achievements of Japan in particular with the teacher offering a funny but elaborate response to the country’s relations with Japan.
Musengezi is very successful in exposing the ills of nationalism in Africa through characterisation and careful use of language in “The Honourable Minister” clearly embodying Franz Fanon’s “Pitfalls of National Consciousness” in the “Wretched of the Earth” on how the white coloniser was replaced by black oppressors under the guise of nationalism soon after independence.