Young people using art to build peace in Zimbabwe – Part 2
His group was performing a play, when members from NAYO were getting ready to engage youths in a workshop to diagnose the growing polarisation in their township. Chishuwo realised the light that was seemingly at the end of his tunnel, as NAYO invited him to feature in the 2011 edition of the Jacaranda Arts Festival. A discussion was held with his group members for a possible collaboration in peace messaging during this event. Initially, they were not willing to even talk about the word ‘peace’ because of the political connotations it had derived within their township.
As Chishuwo noted, it was difficult enough to have youths with different political outlooks working together and have community elders accepting arts as a form of communication – especially on sociopolitical topics when issues of justice were yet to be dealt with. Given Chishuwo’s known political involvement, the community was not willing to accept peace messages from him, since all his statements were viewed within political lenses. The group was also convinced that there was a surveillance system monitoring their activities, and any association with outsiders seemed totally unacceptable to them. However, through continued engagements, namely in community dialogue meetings, the group finally agreed to take the bull by its horns and partake in peace messaging. NAYO decided to use Chishuwo’s plays in the streets of Harare where people did not know his group. The team members were given a platform to perform from which they gained confidence. They articulately delivered messages on peace in dance, poetry and drama. Finally, they performed on the big festival stage together with other young artists to a thunderous applause from government ministers and other stakeholders that were present. Chishuwo and his crew were an instant hit.
Their confidence was boosted, and they decided to go back to their community Epworth to spread the message of peace and begin to speak to a torn-apart community. From small crowds to gathering hordes of people, the group – now dubbed “Vahombe Performing Theatre Arts” – has become a sensation and a timely voice to community transformation, as tolerance, forgiveness and unity is now possible. They are also being hired by other organisations to perform at their functions which has opened up a channel for income in their previously poverty stricken lives.
In 2012 they became ambassadors of the Jacaranda Arts Festival and featured in the main event of the theatre category through a themed and well choreographed performance in Harare’s Africa Unity Square. That year’s festival coincided with a “Youth Fair” which brought together many youth organizations from across Zimbabwe, creating a chance for the group to perform in other marginalized communities and make a clarion call for peace and non-violence there as well.
NAYO’s youth-led interventions are envisioned to foster peace and a sustainable future in Zimbabwean communities and the country as a whole. The organisation calls on all of us to be aware of the importance of youths in the national discourse. As “Vahombe Performing Theatre Arts” now say, “nothing for the youths without the youths”.