Semo back on stage

The censorship Board has authorised public performances of the political satire which landed Thlupego Chisiza in police custody, but tumbled deeper into the debate about the relevance of censorship in democratic Malawi.

Chisiza and Lions Theatre restage Semo on Monday at Robin’s Park in Malawi’s commercial city, Blantyre—but only if they get rid of 12 points considered in contempt of President Bingu wa Mutharika, his spokesperson Hetherwick Ntaba, unspecified opposition leaders and the aged.

Contrary to the board’s moves towards becoming a classifier of pieces of public entertainment, the conditions, signed by cultural standards officer Daston Mpando, outlaws parts of the play for “quoting the president verbatim on his take against NGOs, journalists and donors” as well as  recounting his threatening order for the police “to shoot to kill” and “meet agitating activists and demonstrators on the streets” .

Additionally, the board bans the  metaphor “Pentium One”, saying it has connotations about Ntaba, who is also known  as  ‘Talking Computer’ for his eloquence even in defence of government blunders.

And six sections are on the chopping board due to content that ” incites revolt and public unrest”.

On Wednesday, Thlupego, who was fined K5 000 (about $30) for staging the play without clearance from the board, said in an interview he was willing to delete the controversial areas because it would not affect the storyline.

“Whether this type of censorship is part of their duty in this era is meat for another day. For now, I am only happy to get the permit and show the people what Semo has in store,” said Chisiza, who was arrested by heavily armed police officers during the foiled premiere of the play at Nanzikambe Space in Blantyre last month.

The crackdown sparked debate in the arts sector, with dramatists labelling it a highhanded breach of freedom of speech and thought which are enshrined in the Constitution.

However, Mpando could not affirm whether the suggested deletion of lines seemingly targeting the President and other top officials is part of the board’s mandate. He referred the matter to chief censoring officer Humphreys Mpondaminga, who denied being a puppet of government. The censor-in-chief could not be reached.

However, the conditions signed on his behalf indicate the play was examined according to Section 23 of the 44-year-old censorship legislation which prohibits stage performances deemed harmful to public morals; offensive to religious convictions or feelings of any section; in contempt of any individuals; contrary to public safety and order or detrimental to relationships in society.

“Having critically examined the script, some lines in Semo were found to be contrary to the sections referred above. You are, therefore, advised to delete the lines …as a condition for the issuance of a public entertainment permit,” reads the letter in part.

Chisiza claimed that he has been receiving threats from unknown callers to cancel the comeback show, but said he is undeterred because “the state of affairs in the imaginary Republic of Kwacha Kwayera is similar and relevant to modern Malawi.”

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