The Convert

Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company's THE CONVERT
by Danai Gurira
directed by Michael John Garcés
October 9, 2013November 10, 2013

“Who we are today,” she explains, “is how we are affected by what happened back then.” - Part Two

An essay John M. Baker
READ PART ONE


The Ndebele and Shona were subdued by these wars and endured more than 80 years of British minority rule, which further disenfranchised Africans in the region. Blacks were driven into reservations, prohibited from owning land in white areas, and denied the right to vote and hold political office or any high office in the army, police, or public service. The marginalized Africans welcomed white missionaries into their tribal lands, and many missionaries saw an opportunity to uplift the downtrodden locals by educating them and converting them to Christianity. Today, in post-colonial Zimbabwe, an estimated 70 to 80% of the country’s population belongs to some Christian denomination, with many facing the dilemma of negotiating Christian beliefs and African traditions. A June 2012 article in Zimbabwe’s largest daily newspaper sums up this spiritual and cultural quandary: “…many Zimbabweans are Christians by day and African traditionalists by night, many Zimbabweans are Christians in town and traditionalists in their rural homes...who is fooling who or what is blending what and what brand are we?”

Traces of colonialism linger in other ways, too, even though Zimbabwe has been independent from Great Britain for more than 30 years. The early days of independence were certainly hopeful. When Robert Mugabe, a Roman Catholic from the Shona tribe, was elected the first black Prime Minister of Zimbabwe in 1980, he was considered one of Africa’s brightest post-colonial hopes. His first speech as Prime Minister pointed toward progress: “Let us deepen our sense of belonging and engender a common interest that knows no race, colour or creed.” Early on, he built schools, clinics, and roads and promoted peace. But the country almost simultaneously began to experience a new wave of corruption and violence. Growing intolerant of opposition, Mugabe ordered the massacre of some 20,000 rival Ndebele, the demolition of impoverished areas housing opposition supporters, and, most recently, the redistribution of white-owned land. The new country, despite its independence and new constitution, found itself repeating the cycle of oppression it had experienced decades earlier—only this time on its own people. By excavating the past, The Convert lays the groundwork for Gurira to continue grappling with these more recent events in the subsequent plays of her trilogy.

Picture: Joshua Knomo receives a ceremonial axe from a veteran of the 1896-97 uprisings. Immediately to his right is Robert Mugabe, President of Zimbabwe since its independence.

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