In Zimbabwe, Mugabe’s exit drama is already playing on stage

Laughter has replaced fear in Zimbabwe as the dramatic events leading to the resignation of former leader Robert Mugabe are already playing out on stage.

Crowds last week packed a theater in the capital, Harare, as Mugabe and his wife were openly mocked.

Gazing out on the crowd in a public place for the first time since November, a portrait of Mugabe had become a target of ridicule, a far cry from the reverence and dread it once induced. Such portraits of the man who was once the world’s oldest head of state at 93 were instantly removed after he stepped down amid pressure from the army, the ruling party and a long-frustrated public.

Some in the audience choked with laughter and others nearly fell off their chairs at the depiction of former first lady Grace Mugabe, long unpopular for her sharp temper and shopping expeditions as the once-populous country crumbled during her husband’s 37 years in power.

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The former first lady’s political ambitions intensified the national discontent and ruling party divisions that led to a military takeover and her husband’s downfall. Grace Mugabe’s rival and a former presidential confidant, Emmerson Mnangagwa, took power with the backing of Constantino Chiwenga, the military commander who led the takeover.

The new play opened with a restless Grace Mugabe, brought to life by 27-year Caroline Magenga, preparing a speech for a political rally in which she plans “to bury Mnangagwa.”

In the scene, a waiter responsible for the first lady’s room service is forced to sit on the floor and listen to the speech — and is quickly threatened for his suggestion that she avoid attacks on Mnangagwa.

“It was a slip of an opinion, Doctor, Your Excellency, Madam President,” he stammers apologetically.

From then on, he cheers ferociously at her every word. That is until the president, staggering, enters the Mugabe mansion under the guard of Chiwenga, who announces a house arrest.

Mixing real and imagined events, the 90-minute play has scenes that were unthinkable in Zimbabwe just months ago.

They include Grace Mugabe begging to be allowed to leave for Dubai, trying to seduce the army commander and helping the president’s male Cabinet ministers to escape disguised as women.

Meanwhile, the elderly Robert Mugabe is depicted as struggling to walk, sleeping in between important negotiations and speeches and eventually agreeing to resign.

He faints at one point after a spirit medium he has consulted for guidance tells him: “The spirits are telling me you are about to get a new post: You will be head of your village.”

During Mugabe’s rule, police routinely arrested artists and banned plays and documentaries perceived as critical of the president.

Now the young cast of the new play, with all of the actors under 35, receives standing ovations. The play is adding more shows next week to meet demand, organizers said.

“We used real and imagined events. The play is meant to diffuse a very tense situation that we went through as a country,” said Charles Munganasa, the director.

Yet even after his resignation, Mugabe still casts a shadow on the southern African country.

“Actors were afraid to come forward when we called for auditions. It is amazing we have been able to do this without any harassment. The era of Robert Mugabe is truly over,” Munganasa told The Associated Press.

He said Zimbabwe’s military supported the play by allowing actors to wear army fatigues, which are usually off-limits to civilians.

In another indication of the new freedoms of expression, the director made a dig at the former military commander, who is now the country’s vice president, over his “funny” take on English words.

The play’s name, “Operation Restore Regasi,” reflects Chiwenga’s pronunciation of the military campaign that led to Mugabe’s exit: Operation Restore Legacy.

“He always uses R where there is an L,” Munganasa said. “I hope he never says the word ‘elections’ in public.”


Operation Restore Regasi Mesmerises

Upenyu Chaota

The Charles Austin Theatre Drama Club’s ‘Operation Restore Regasi’ mesmerised the audience when it premiered at the theatre last Friday.
The play retraces events that culminated in the resignation of President Robert Mugabe following a military intervention codenamed Operation Restore Legacy.
Directed and scripted by Charles Munganasa, Operation Restore Regasi dramatises events, real and imagined, that took place mainly at Mugabe’s private mansion popularly known as Blue Roof.
The play opens at Blue Roof with Grace Mugabe rehearsing her next public tirade against those perceived to be opposed to her ascendency to the presidium, with George Charamba cheering her on.
The packed Charles Austin Theatre was amused by the remarkable display of talent by the cast of mainly young actors who gave an amusing glimpse of what was happening behind the scenes in the wake of the military operation.
Mugabe is caricatured as a jittery character who however tries to cunningly keep his position despite the military intervention, but is left dejected after finding out that events have overtaken him.
 “I am your Commander in Chief and you have no right to deploy yourselves without me giving you the order. You are violating the constitution,” a livid Mugabe tells General Constantino Chiwenga.
The general is himself mocked for his perceived difficulties pronouncing the ‘L’ syllable, thus ‘Regasi’ instead of ‘Legacy’.
Grace is also satirically portrayed as a character with no self-control and as suffering from severe emotional instability, causing her to cry herself unconscious when she realises that power has suddenly slipped from her family’s hands when it had just seemed like she had it all under control.
The play ends with the public celebrating Mugabe’s resignation, with a distraught Grace crying her voice out at Blue Roof.
“This play promises to be one of our best and we are glad that the audience have found it to be a rib cracker. We thank the people for their continued support which is helping the development of theatre in Masvingo,” Munganasa told TellZim News.entertainment


Operation Restore Regasi to be re staged

A DOCUMENTARY play that comically traces former President Robert Mugabe’s last moments in power, Operation Restore Regasi, is set to be restaged this Friday at Charles Austin Theatre in Masvingo, following public demand after it was oversubscribed during the first staging.


When the play premiered late last month at Charles Austin, the theatre was filled to the rafters, and there was demand for its restaging, according to playwright, Charles Munganasa.

“We are bringing you again Operation Restore Regasi on Friday following your unanimous call. Last time, the theatre was filled to capacity, which has not been the case for a number of years,” he said.

Munganasa said the play would go on a nationwide tour amid growing requests from people across the country.

“Since its launch, there have been numerous calls to take it to other towns, as a way of promoting documentary theatre. We are, therefore, going to firstly tour Harare, Bulawayo, Gweru, Mutare and Victoria Falls on dates yet to be confirmed,” he said.

In the play, Mike Banda plays Mugabe, with veteran actress Carol Mpofu as his wife, Grace.

Munganasa plays Constantino Chiwenga, Ngoni Chinovava features as Father Fidelis Mukonori and Dereck Mapfumo as Sibusiso Moyo.

Other actors are Donovan Takaendesa, Marayane Mtetwa and Farai Mukumba.

Mugabe was ousted from power following a military intervention last year, having led the country for 37 years.