Zimbabwe playwright and Mugabe critic wins award

Thu Nov 27, 2008 9:49am EST
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By Mike Collett-White

LONDON (Reuters) - Zimbabwean playwright Cont Mhlanga, who has challenged President Robert Mugabe's rule throughout his career, has been awarded a new prize celebrating the role the arts can play in promoting human rights.

Mhlanga has seen his last two plays, both political satires, banned by the authorities, and welcomed the award as a morale booster and security blanket in a country where he says he is not safe.

"It's not that safe," said the playwright, who would not give his age but described himself as "just an old man."

"I always live by being very careful," he told Reuters by telephone from Zimbabwe. He did not to fly to London to receive the prize this week, partly because there was not enough time.

"What saved me is that I've always focused on hard-hitting issues without touching the political side. I hope this award gives me global exposure, as that in itself gives me safety."

The play which won the inaugural ArtVenture Freedom to Create Prize, worth $50,000, was "The Good President," which was staged in Zimbabwe's second city Bulawayo last year before being banned for its perceived parallels with Mugabe.

Prize organizers described The Good President as a political satire that depicts an African dictator who has ruled Zimbabwe for 27 years since the country gained independence in 1980.

The play, presented as a fictional account, opens with scenes depicting police chasing street protesters and showing how the country's laws prohibit a gathering of more than five people without police clearance.   Continued...

<p>Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe attends the funeral service of the late Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa in Lusaka, September 3, 2008. REUTERS/Mackson Wasamunu</p>