News Brief

Celebrated Zimbabwean Playwright Stephen Chifunyise Has Passed Away

The acclaimed playwright and culturalist was 70 years old.

Zimbabwean playwright Stephen Chifunyise, best known for developing young talent, has passed away, ZimLive reports.

Chifunyise died Monday at the age of 70.

Born in 1948, he began his journey in the arts while in exile in Zambia during the 1970s, BBC adds. After earning his masters degree in theatre arts in the United States, Chifunyise returned to Zimbabwe after independence in 1980.

In the midst of serving as the permanent secretary for education sport and culture, he co-founded the Children's Performing Arts Workshop (Chipawo) in 1989—where the likes of Danai Gurira had the opportunity to have their talents developed at a young age.


"He was a cultural scholar whose creative wisdom shall be dearly missed," Kgosi Nyathi, director of Bulawayo Art Gallery, says to ZimLive. "The arts fraternity is poorer."

Chifunyise penned a total of 73 plays, where 63 were performed on stage, radio and TV in Zambia, Zimababwe, Sweden, South Africa, Malawi, India and the UK, BBC reports. Several of his scripts in the 1970s were broadcast on Zambian television and were produced by Rooftop Promotions theatre company in Zimbabwe.

This 2009 clip from AP Archive follows Chifunyise and his play, Heal The Wounds, which was his contribution to reckon with the healing that needed to occur after the June 2008 political violence in Zimbabwe.

"You have people arguing and talking after seeing the play—that is what we want if we are going to archive reconciliation or national healing, where the people can argue about the processes and the ideas and the ideology that is being propounded on achieving national healing and reconciliation," he says in the video. "So I think theatre in intents and purposes has an advantage over medium."

Watch below.

The prolific Zimbabwean cultural icon will be missed.

Featured
Collage by Ta'Ron Joyner

I Would Rather Breathe Than Think Outside the Box

South African artists were already working for little to no pay, but the pandemic has unleashed a flood of exploitative work requests right when we need money the most.

This essay is part of OkayAfrica's SA Reframed series, featuring personal writing from some of South Africa's best young writers edited by Verashni Pillay.

On the radio the other day, I heard a small business owner of a costume design company being interviewed and asked how they have managed to:

a. Reinvent themselves during this period, and

b. Think outside the box while doing so.

Their conversation made me think about how I have not managed to wrap my head around any sort of future, or reinvention outside any kind of box—beyond the one that wraps itself around my immediate reality. When the lockdown was announced, three friends and I withdrew to a remote area where internet access was dubious and, most times, simply not available. I would need to walk a bit of a distance to locate a spot under a tree or up a mountain to be connected for thirty minutes, or so.

Then I would do a basic comb through my emails and respond to work or requests that were already underway pre-lockdown. I only responded to new requests that either afforded me the opportunity to earn an income or those that allowed me to be productive on my own terms.

I was tired, lowkey grateful for the global pause, and no longer interested in the overly productive, overloaded nature of my previous normal. Something about the forced halt made me realise that I was on the edge of everything—myself included. I turned down anything that required me to join the endless online festivals, zoom panel discussions, Instagram takeovers and live readings. I refused all opportunities that needed me to grapple with any sort of forced normalcy. The ones that offered data or airtime or solidarity as compensation or assumed that I had gone pro bono. I needed a moment. I needed the space and time to re-bargain with the point of it all.

The pause was both useful and scary. It brought to the surface fears and revelations about the shortfalls of our industry and how creatives are positioned within the productivity machinery and economy of South Africa, or rather all the ways we fall outside of it.

As Minister of employment and labour Thulas Nxesi mentioned in a briefing two months ago, "On the issue of freelance workers—unfortunately with the current legislation they fall outside. Maybe what we are going to do is that after this we will have to re-look at it in terms of our legislative amendments and start a debate about that." Why are there laws that have gone unchallenged? Who should be challenging them? Why are artists hearing, out loud for the first time, of convenient loopholes that render us outside of an economy that taxes us like everyone else, and consumes us and our work. Yet, in times of crisis, this same economy engages with our art and our productivity and our products, but still deems us on the margin, outside, and non-essential. If we are not assisted financially, how can we be productive, how can we acquire the resources to produce? How can we apply our minds to anything else outside of survival and scrambling to stay afloat.

Pandemics do not mean that artists have gone pro bono

When you approach an artist with the assumption that they have gone pro bono during this time, when you draft an email to request a collaboration, a commission, a participation, a productivity of any kind, please bear in mind that artists are up against an unconcerned and corrupt government that has failed to provide aid and assistance to their sector during this time.

Theatre critic Sara Holdren says "Art is hard and most of it fails—either in small ways or catastrophic ones." In South Africa, the process of making art is hard, sure, but more than that, the conditions and the context in which we make work fails us in catastrophic ways that will require more than a debate and amended legislation. It will need, for starters, a minister who cares about the arts and understands its soul and mechanisms. This pause has brought about more questions and concerns for me than inspiration to reinvent or think outside the box. I have questions about the box itself and why I feel asphyxiated and trapped by its design.

I would rather breathe than think outside of the box

This pandemic has made me question what my career, livelihood and stability have been built on; what has been propping them up all this time, and what has been allowing me to appear valued and valuable in this economy? What does and will the spectrum of value look like in a normal that has been disrupted and now sits in a near distant future that may or may not be near?

Then I find myself vacillating between hope and concern. My hope is that when the pandemic is no longer with us, artists can have a come-to-jesus conversation about what has contributed and exacerbated this attitude and disrespect toward our practice and industry, I hope we can challenge the legislations that we have been dared to challenge, I hope we can be productive in ways that serve us and make sense for our well-being, that we will be paid our worth and that our society will realize that without the artist producing, there will be no art, or music, or films, or books and things that have kept people entertained and creatively nourished during this time.

My concern is that the "free"content artists are currently creating and the free access to art or performances, will not make this realisation possible, and that this kind of access, that was already undervalued and exploited, will be irreversible. The exploitation dialogue is tiring. Being treated as non-essential is tiring and terrifying too, and while most of the world can slowly start going back to work, most artists will probably have to hang tight until 2021, maybe even 2022.

While artists deal with a hoax of an arts and culture department that is dead to us and a minister who tweets more than he does his job, in an ideal world, I wish that artists could afford to indulge uncertainty, and fear, and pause, in ways that allow them to heed the call made by Nicholas Berger in his piece The Forgotten Art of Assembly [Or, Why Theatre Makers Should Stop Making] "We must lean into this pain. We must feel the grief. We must mourn. Mourn the loss of work, the loss of jobs, the loss of money, the loss of life. Mourn the temporary loss of an art form that demands assembly. Lean into the grief. Lean in. Lean in. Lean in. We must remind ourselves that mourning is a human act, not a digital one."

Koleka Putuma is an award-winning poet, playwright and theatre director. Her bestselling debut collection of poems Collective Amnesia is in its 10th print run and her play No Easter Sunday for Queers Sunday for Queers won several awards.

Interview

Interview: Omah Lay Is Nigeria's New Young Act to W​atch

We sit down with the rising Port Harcourt-born musician to talk about his latest EP, Get Layd.

Omah Lay's music is at once introspective and hedonistic, matched with the vibrancy of alt-pop production, sometimes crafted by the artist himself. The Nigerian act, who released his debut EP, Get Layd, earlier this year has been described as wielding the "lyricism of Burna Boy and the melodies of Wizkid."

Omah Lay's grandfather played in Celestine Ukwu's highlife band; his father played the drums too. Being put through his paces in Nigeria's South region—specifically Port Harcourt—supplies the grit to Omah's velvety singing. The starkness of the world he inhabits is a wonder and his lyrics are too. Phrases like "You dun burst my eyeglass" and "Omo she be SARS and she carry full van" are a cultural stamp, a burst out of the ordinary for listeners, many of whom now declare Omah Lay as "special."

Following the validating reception of singles "You" and "Bad Influence," Omah Lay shared the Get Layd EP on May 22. Including just three new songs might have posed a gamble and not defined his sound well enough, but the musician shattered those judgements. Omah Lay is a gifted artist and has the uncanny ability to exist in his space, even when circling around the afro-fusion tag that has seen a recent rise in adaptability.

Below, Omah Lay speaks to OkayAfrica about his Get Layd EP, coming to Lagos, and more.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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Photo by AMOS GUMULIRA / AFP) (Photo by AMOS GUMULIRA/AFP via Getty Images

Malawians Head Back to Voting Polls in Historic Re-election

Malawians will be casting their votes yet again after the country's Constitutional Court ruled that the May elections of 2019 had been rigged.

Malawians are casting their votes today after the Constitutional Court annulled the results of the May, 2019 elections due to rigging, Aljazeera reports. Judges made the ruling based on evidence presented to them which included tally sheets which had been tampered with using correctional fluid. Malawi is the second African country after Kenya to ever annul a presidential election over irregularities.
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