Uncategorized Political playwright stirs up Fest

Political playwright stirs up Fest

Artists often tackle controversial subjects to provoke discussion. One rabble rouser destined to stir up the Festival with his work is Tsepo wa Mamatu, no stranger to telling it like it is.

Wa Mamatu, director of Mbeki and Other Nightmares, speaks his mind. About 4 000 fellow artists booed him at a national conference when he spoke out against President Jacob Zuma’s dictating what artists should produce.

Wa Mamatu said he saw Zuma as stifling artists’ independence:

“Zuma said to them that our art should promote nation building and non-violence. One can see that he is prescribing how we should work as artists and that is worrying.

“His prescription is not blatant, but there’s a sense that we’re being encouraged to imagine our work in a particular way.”

His work directly defies Zuma’s expectation of artists to serve the government as it addresses the question of leadership.

“In Mbeki, we address the question of why we allow ourselves to settle for less. If you look at the leadership of [Julius] Malema, which we address in the play, we question how we got to this point where the politics of the country are about the politics of the stomach.

“How is it that Mbeki could not see that he was consumed by power? Why is it that we allowed someone like Jacob Zuma to become the president of the country?

“Mainly, what I’m asking is, can blackness govern?”

He hopes to encourage dialogue and engagement by other artists with his work.

Wa Mamatu believes the initial lack of funding for his production is due to the controversial nature of his play.

“People start to label you as being anti-transformation and they say that you are counter-revolutionary because you don’t want to say what the government wants to hear. So no one wants to fund your work because they don’t want to be associated with that label.”

He believes that mainstream productions are more readily funded.

“If you look at work that gets more prominence and funding, its work that’s non-threatening.”

Wa Mamatu made a clear distinction between artist and activist:

“If you’re an entertainer, you can do your dance and songs, but if you’re an artist then your responsibility is much more direct, and your work has to be bold and provocative and has to speak
to power.”

He believes there is nothing wrong with speaking your mind. “I am saying things that we all know but which other people are scared to say.”

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