Rather than ridiculing the traditional leaders for continuously dancing to the tune from above, Nanzikambe Arts will stage The President’s Prerogative at their performance space in Blantyre this Friday evening to highlight the curse of concentrating powers in the hands of a single authority.
Written and directed by Chancellor College drama lecturer Smith Likongwe, the play dwells on a community resisting relocation as government is about to start extracting oil in their midst.
They feel the transfer is not in their interest and unfair as government kept the petroleum exploration a closely guarded secret even from the powerless chiefs who only represent their pockets.
“Through the glaring lack of consultation, the play examines our democratic choices, especially the top-to-bottom approach to development,” said Likongwe.
He adds: “Prerogatives are meant for common good, but the presidency is given too many powers and it can be used to harm the citizens.”
So powerful is the unseen leader that its occupant does not appear on stage.Â People stand afar and address the presidency through a microphone, a reminder of semi-divine monarchies that dotted the continent in the pre-colonial era.
Politics and witchcraft
In so doing the play leads the audience into the murky world of politics and witchcraft, pitying the powerlessness of chiefs who are paraded to defend the indefensible.
But how different is this feature from its contemporaries whose plays resemble street talk about politics?
“I believe in art first.Â Art is more paramount than themes because if you concentrate on themes, you become nothing when things change. The President’s Prerogative is packed with symbols and a plot that convey different meanings not about or representing anybody. We discuss the presidency as an issue, not an individual,” says Likongwe.
The playwright last stepped on stage when Nanzikambe performed Taliro at the Harare International Festival for Arts in Zimbabwe in 2010.
During the break, Likongwe has authored 24 scripts for MBC Theatre of the Air in the past year.
The cast includes Ian Chisekula, Henry Ntalika, Thlupego Chisiza, Vanessa Phiri, Maurine Thala, Geoffrey Mbene, Catherine Phiri, Juliet Royo and John Duma.
After the launch, the play will tour 10 districts, including Mchinji Saturday and Crossroads Hotel in Lilongwe on Sunday.