Unadulterated opinions of ordinary Batswana and Zimbabweans about each other were heard in the play The People’s Voice (Our Song).
The play ran from Monday 8th December till Wednesday 10th December and featured a cast of Batswana and Zimbabwean actors.
It was a follow up to Our Song, staged last year by the same cast and updated with this years themes of xenophobic murders in neighbouring South Africa and Cholera.
The People’s Voice was hosted by The Botswana Civil Society Coalition for Zimbabwe (BOCISCOZ), who also hosted Our Song last year. It is part of Ditshwanelo’s focus on Zimbabwe that marks the 60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The play begins with Zimbabwean immigrants arriving at the Ramatlabama border aboard the African Queen. That’s the fictional much-praised bus that crosses the Zimbabwe/Botswana border.
The audience is right away invited into the predicament of the economic migrants who are trying to get as much days as they can at the border, to perform odd jobs, earning money to buy groceries for their families back home. Many only get 15 or 10-day stay each. An elderly man gets a 30-day stay posing as a reverend and later shown working on a construction site.
What is most striking is the play’s honesty in expressing sentiments that may normally be uttered in hushed tones.
“Batswana are lazy, 1 Zimbabwean is equal to 7 Batswana,” the afore-mentioned elder snickered. In turn Batswana blanket the Zimbabweans for being responsible for burglaries and sexual assaults, and caring less about the economic and political implications that sees them flocking into Botswana.
“Why don’t you sell your baskets back home to feed your children,” a Motswana character bellowed.
As the play continues, individual voices are heard, giving clarity. A member of the Botswana Police expresses concern that Zimbabwean criminals run rampant at night time; he states that he is reclaiming the streets. “In fact, this is not our core business,” the policeman said, “but yet this does not come to an end.”
The Zimbabwean Police’s depictions are not as favourable as they bootlick by uttering pro-Mugabe sentiments after dispersing what appears to be a peaceful all women protest, which raised questions on the voice of women. “What are the mothers saying to these atrocities?” asked one of the demonstrators.
MDC protests are dispersed with the piercing sound of gunshots, which sound anytime there appears to be a gathering in Zimbabwe, as the play implies.
A South African woman, widow of a Zimbabwean victim of a xenophobic murder, mourns her late husband and two children who were burnt in the attacks. An ill Zimbabwean fights with a Motswana at a public health facility because the Motswana believes that though he came after the Zimbabwean he must receive service first.
Chantal, a 22-year-old Zimbabwean woman, was reduced to tears, commenting about the play in a forum that was provided after the play for feedback. She expressed how she feels disenfranchised as a Zimbabwean living in Botswana. She said she was wary of using public transport as her request for the combi to stop upon arriving at her destination has often been ignored. “I can’t sit at the back of the bus,” she said.
A Motswana man said he had been made conscious of the stories of Zimbabwean economic migrants, and suggested to Ditshwanelo that the play should travel throughout Botswana and be staged in all villages and towns.
“I work across a place where Zimbabwean piece-job seekers station themselves and have seen them scuttle off many times during the day and was completely ignorant to what could be the causes of this,” said a young Motswana woman.