On the 7th of January 2008 Grace Maguri and Samuel Ravengai hooked up with Mr Athanasius Ruswa at the Manicaland Provincial Arts Council offices to discuss issues relating to theatre censorship in his province. Mr Ruswa was the provincial arts manager. Sadly he died in early July at the age of 55 before I had published my report on censorship and political control of Zimbabwean theatre. He joined the National Arts Council as a provincial arts officer in 1994 and rose through the ranks to become the Provincial Arts Manager. The following is an interview that he gave us.
Samuel Ravengai (SR): We are on a reconnaissance mission to know the status of theatre in your province. What was the state of theatre like in the early 80s up to about 2000s
Athanasius Ruswa (AT) All the arts were doing very well. We had a number of theatre groups doing very well in the whole province. They could live from art.
SR what has gone wrong?
AR When the economy in a downward trend all aspects of the economy suffer including the arts. We now have fewer groups as compared to the early days. The reasons for that are many. The state of the economy, the political environment which has forced many of our artistes to diversify into cross border traders and into small scale mining.
SR Let’s talk about the political environment. How has it affected theatre?
AR Theatre benefits or suffers from both social and political problems of the country. But I like what our national director Mr. Titus Chipangura has said regarding the issue of politics. He has said that NACZ deals with art. Nobody was asked about their political affiliation when they got the job in the Council. The incumbents must deal with issues relating to the arts and not politics.
SR We understand as Provincial Arts Manager you represent the artistes during Provincial Development Committee meetings. That is a political gathering isn’t it?
AR Yes and no. We discuss issues relating to development and what is happening in the province. Every sector is represented in this committee…the police, education, CIO everybody. If there is a problem emanating from the behaviour of our theatre groups, it is discussed at that level. As Provincial Arts Manager I am supposed to attend all PDC meetings present and hear problems relating to the arts. Sometimes the police and CIO complain about political issues raised by some theatre groups. I tend to go back to the groups and tell them to recreate so that they don’t get in trouble with the security agents. Our policy is that for all arts to be marketable they must be independent of all political interference. The political side of our committee comes in the sense that the chair of the PDC who is the Provincial Administrator sits on the national board to formulate policies and acts of parliament to solve problems that affect government at provincial level and of course the issue of freedom of expression you were talking about.
SR What kind of help do you give to groups that would like to perform in your province?
AR Any group that would like to perform at any school in our province must come through the Provincial Arts Council and get a letter which must be endorsed by Provincial Education Officer. The letter must state where the group must go and when the letter will expire.
SR Is that a form of censorship?
AR The reason is that of the quality and morality of the art work. We also want to make sure that one school is not oversubscribed by certain groups. It’s a way of controlling. It’s an operational system which has nothing to do with politics. You may never know about the actual intentions of the education secretary who crafted that circular. To us it’s just a system and nothing else.
SR Have you ever denied any group the right to perform in your province?
AR No licensed group has been denied a chance to perform in Manicaland province. I am not aware of that.
SR How about Vhitori Entertainment who were meant to bring a play called Final Push?
AR That group was not registered by any association. That was the reason why it was denied permission to perform here. As a matter of fact Daves Guzha and his Rooftop Promotions have brought political plays to this province and we have allowed them to perform plays like Super patriots and Morons. The same thing with Global Arts who have brought What they Said and What they Got.
SR What is your comment on political plays?
AR If an artiste is sincerely partisan s/he has a problem. If you are an extremist you will face some problems. An artiste must be non-partisan. Anything that I am doing must not play rough on the authorities. If you are political you have lost direction, especially these days when we are moving towards March elections. We shouldn’t be extremists. As PAM we have got a way of helping our artistes out of this. We normally have an end of year meeting with artistes where we discuss and reflect on the previous year. At the beginning of the year, we have another meeting where we advise artistes on themes and the way to avoid politics. I give the artistes the calendar of events like performances at Heroes Day where we normally ask them to perform for free and then performances at Independence Day where all artistes must be paid. We discuss the fees for that year and make recommendations for the new year. This is done so that when I go to the PDC I report on the parameters that we would have set
SR It was a pleasure speaking to you sir
AR Thank you.