Standing in Pairs
Devised from real testimonies of people’s experience in Zimbabwean prisons – especially political detainees and prohibited immigrants (PIs) this piece of dance-theatre takes real stories and draws metaphorical parallels that reflect the stagnation and relentless state of uncertainty, disintegration and waiting in contemporary Zimbabwe under Robert Mugabe.
The story behind this work is both personal and political: from the director’s own experience in maximum security prison in Zimbabwe, the initial creative impulse began with the wish to tell the stories of women encountered. This evolved into a desire to depict the conditions of incarceration and explore how this could represent something of the situation in Zimbabwe as a whole. Real and lived experience of men and women caught up in the prison system as a result of human rights activism formed the basis for devising. The dancer’s instinctive physical response to notions of being ripped away from yourself, of being stopped, the effect of indeterminate waiting upon identity and reality are realised in the choreography.
The story centres around Helen’s arrest and detention: when she is taken in, she leaves part of herself outside. Her outside self attempts to unpick the events that led to her arrest. She remembers going to the tree to meet Jabu. There was a riot, but she doesn’t remember causing it. The events replay from different perspectives – Jabu could stand witness and prove her innocence – but can he?
This dance-theatre production explores culpability and truth when the law is arbitrarily applied.
Indeterminate waiting and uncertainty play out as a metaphoric expression of Zimbabwe’s situation, power play between guards and prisoners within the walls not only depict how violence with impunity is justified, but also provide comic relief. Finally, the audience is invited to question how justice can negotiated.
Devised in a censored environment and premiered at the Harare International Festival of Arts, the piece alludes to the case against 29 activists arrested for the murder of a policeman in 2011. 5 of the 29 were still on remand at the time of creating the work, in 2013. The state’s case is that a policeman, inspector Petrus Mutedza, who was part of a police unit deployed to break up what is described as an “illegal” MDC gathering in Glenview, was allegedly killed by a mob that stoned, kicked and punched him to death. The state said the gathering did not have police clearance as prescribed under the Public Order and Security Act.
The MDC activists deny the murder charges against them, saying they’ve been trumped up by the state to intimidate them. Testifying in 2012, Tichaona Mutedza, the brother of the slain policeman instead accused Zanu-PF members of killing him. In 2015, the case was still ongoing.
The production is structured in order to achieve focussed debate and engagement, and intensive contact with the issues is facilitated through an interactive workshop process.