The Censorship Board has taken a perceived politically-orchestrated fight against protest plays to the pinnacle of drama in Malawi, banning National Theatre Association of Malawi (Ntam) president Ian Chisekula’s production on Monday.
According to press adverts on Monday, Chisekula and eight other actors from the Central Region were scheduled to launch Nyasaland at Crossroads at Kalikuti Hotel in MalawiÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s capital, Lilongwe, on Saturday.
However, the Ntam leader said in an interview on Tuesday that the play, inspired by the ongoing lack of fuel, forex and good governance, has been shelved following a fast-track letter in which the censors say it undermines government and its leaders.
Said Chisekula:Ã‚Â “The letter states that apart from undermining the ruling party and the country’s leadership, the content has the potential to spark hatred. Strangely, they have not cited a line to substantiate their claims.
“I think the board is playing party politics. Last week, they assured me of a permit. Why have they taken the sudden U-turn?”
The prohibition comes barely 22 days after the censors ordered Lions Theatre to delete politically sensitive parts of Semo, Lions TheatreÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s scathing political satire which landed Thlupego Chisiza a fine and night in police custody for staging a public performance without permits.
And Chisekula thinks the board, legally mandated to regulate public entertainment, is losing the plot by allowing itself to be used by politicians.
Among other things, the letter indicates that the dispirited dramatist may appeal the ban to the Minister of Information. This, says Chisekula, is not only out of order, but also exposes the politics that threatens the boardÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s independence.
He lamented that efforts to salvage the premiere show have been dealt a heavy blow by the closure of the courts due to the ongoing strike in the Judiciary.
“Whatever the justification they have, I cannot appeal to a minister. If I wanted to do so, I would challenge the censors in court or get an injunction. But how do I get justice when the courts are closed?” he said.
Commenting on the emergence of protest art, Minister of Information and Civic Education Patricia Kaliati praised the censorship board for being neutral as some artists are attacking government to please unnamed personalities and earn a living.
“That’s typical of Malawian artists,” Kaliati told the Weekend Nation last week, “As government, we are not surprised that most of them are attacking us. We know they are doing that with a mission.”
But Chisekula believes the crackdown on political plays is unnecessary because drama creates a platform for lay citizens, artists and leaders to debate and resolve issues as one.
ChisekulaÃ‚Â directed Rising ChoreosÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ Footsteps of a First Lady (featuring Nigerian actor Desmond Elliot) and The Return (starring Patience Ã¢â‚¬Å“Mama GÃ¢â‚¬Â Ozokwor).