From nearly a thousand scripts that came from around the world, New Zealand-based Zimbabwean writer Stanley Makuwe’s play The Coup was recently selected as part of the final 14 plays that will compete for the big prize in the 2011 BBC International Playwriting competition.
Makuwe was amongst many other playwrights who entered the competition that was for anyone who was resident outside Britain who could write a 60-minute radio drama for up to six characters.
The Coup is a rare story of dead bodies in a public hospital mortuary that take matters into their own hands to liberate themselves.
Apart from being food for rats, flies and maggots, they are overcrowded, decomposing, and denied the basic right of any dead body — a decent burial. After deliberations, the dead bodies identify the source of their suffering — a repressive government led by a corrupt dictator.
The plot develops when the group of disgruntled corpses, led by the young body of a former school teacher, breaks the mortuary doors down, marches to a State House and stages a bloody coup that leaves the president dead.
It becomes more intriguing when, on the same night, the president’s soul unsuccessfully attempts to bribe its way into heaven. It then travels to hell where it finds the angry souls of those the president led with an iron fist waiting to dispense mob justice.
Under the protection of the Hell Guards, the president’s soul makes it to Satan’s palace where it successfully seeks asylum.
The refuge is short-lived as the souls of his former countrymen track his soul down, capture and condemn it to everlasting burning in the fires of hell.
“In writing this story I was inspired by the events of 1996 when I was a nursing student at Harare Hospital. There was a massive strike that left the health system so paralysed that even putting it in a wheelchair was not good enough,” said Makuwe.
Makuwe said he had seen so much death and pain at that time and during his several visits to dump bodies in the mortuary, he said to himself: “What if all these dead bodies could talk? What would they say? Who would they hold responsible for the loss of their lives?”
He said at that moment he went on to write a short story titled Life in a Third World Mortuary, which was shortlisted for the 2005 BBC Short Story competition and published in his first book in New Zealand titled Under this Tree and Other Stories.
“I wrote my first play way back in 1992 after being inspired by a playwright called Denford Magora, who to this day I regard as one of Zimbabwe’s top talents. I can’t remember the title of the play though and it never went anywhere. Then I abandoned playwriting for years, until as recently as 2008 when I wrote and produced a play titled His Excellency is in Love, which was staged in packed theatres here in Auckland and Hamilton,” said Makuwe.
He said he was greatly inspired by the responses from New Zealand audiences thus around that same time he staged his next play titled Overthrown, which was meant to be staged in Bulawayo, directed and produced by Cont Mhlanga, only to receive the news that the police came in to stop it before it even went on stage.
In 2009 he then wrote a play titled The New Road, produced by Daves Guzha, which was nominated for the Nama awards and he recently finished a script titled Footprints on Ika’s Heart, a story of love and war, to be produced by the New Zealand Performing Arts School and to be staged at the 2012 Auckland International Cultural Festival.
“It has taken me nearly three years to get this script as close to perfect as I wished it to be. I also managed to write another script with Steven Chifunyise titled From the Anthills of my Land, which we are hoping that Daves Guzha will produce before the end of this year and I have also been approached by the organisers of next year’s South Africa’s Freedom Day celebrations to write a script, and the work is now at an advanced stage,” he said.
Makuwe said there were very serious negotiations going on at the moment to get the play produced in Zimbabwe.
“I’m grateful for all the support from Zimbabweans from around the world who have not stopped sending me congratulatory messages,” said Makuwe.