UK: Scenes from a Zimbabwean-born actor’s life – Mugabe, My Dad and Me

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Zimbabwean-born and now London-based actor Tonderai Munyevu tries to make sense of his roots, both familial and national, in his engaging show Mugabe, My Dad and Me.

His story follows a deliberately meandering line as he jumps in time and place, replaying scenes from his own life.

An incident from his youth bookends the play; a white guy in a pub asks Munyevu where he is from. Cue a soul-searching journey to explain why his accountant father became a violent alcoholic and to what extent Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe was responsible.

One of the highlights of the production is the rapport between Munyevu and his musician, Millie Chapanda. She’s a gwenyambira, or player of the mbira musical instrument, who gives a fascinating, short lecture about the gourd-shaped plucked instrument. She plays the mbira throughout the play – a treat for world music fans – as well as taking the roles of Munyevu’s family members when they speak Shona.

Mugabe is a ghostly presence inhabiting one of the hanging costumes that decorate the stage. He’s a sympathetic character, urbane, intellectual, and betrayed by his closest freedom-fighting colleague, known as The Crocodile.

The war against white rule caused the death of Munyevu’s 17-year-old uncle, killed fighting for independence and it was this loss that shocked Munyevu’s father so much he began drinking, losing his job after a violent confrontation with a white colleague.

Munyevu gives us a potted history of Zimbabwean independence, the transition after the Lancaster House agreement, Mugabe’s differences with Tony Blair, and above all, the ever-increasing importance of land rights.

Munyevu explains that to Southern Africans, land is something passed on and shared, not owned – a crucial difference between black and white in the country. Munyevu’s father left him a tract of land that to this day remains in his possession but that has never been developed.

Returning to his family village after his father’s death, Munyevu is an outsider, paying additional tax to enter the country. His homosexuality also sets him apart, as does his non-agricultural job as an actor.

The world stage is now his home.