Zimbabwe: Shadows and Lies

Artists in Exile

These two short video performances highlight how Zimbabweans living in exile -- mainly in South Africa -- are using theater and music to express their personal experiences and the struggles facing their homeland. By Alexis Bloom and Cassandra Herrman

Alexis Alexis Bloom: Reporter/ Producer | read bio Read Bio Cassandra Cassandra Herrman: Producer / Camera | read bio Read Bio
The Abangqobi Group

The Abangqobi Group
CD: Limpopo Crossing

We first read about The Abangqobi Group on an independent Zimbabwean Web site (www.thezimbabwean.co.uk). After contacting various civic rights groups in South Africa, we managed to track down Bongani Nxumalo, one of the singers. Nxumalo, it turns out, not only is an accomplished singer, but also now works for a Johannesburg newspaper, Homeless Talk. He agreed to meet us for coffee in a downtown Johannesburg hotel and invited us to film one of the group's practice sessions.

The all-male a cappella group started performing in South Africa in 1999, and over the years the group has grown. Like other of the group's members, the group's artistic director, Elijah Mbambo, used to be a professional musician in Zimbabwe. Exiled in South Africa, many of the singers, who often are supporting their families on both sides of the border, make ends meet by working jobs as waiters, day laborers and gardeners. The group's self-declared mission is to "inform, educate and entertain," and many of their songs deal with social issues faced by Zimbabweans, those who are back home as well as those living in exile.

We filmed this rehearsal in a schoolroom in the tough inner-city neighborhood of Hillbrow. The Abangqobi Group tries to rehearse at least three times a week, practicing traditional songs as well as songs with a social message. One of their most popular songs is about the famous Lindela Detention Center, just outside Johannesburg. In "Lindela," the group sings about the hardships Zimbabwean exiles face and the injustice of being arrested, held against their will and sent back to Zimbabwe. Even though conditions at Lindela have improved in the last few years after the South African media reported appalling conditions there, it's still a desperate place for Zimbabweans who await deportation and an uncertain future.

The song performed here is "Nampa A Bantu." The lyrics describe enemies that chase Zimbabweans and how they need to run hard, run fast, away from their enemies.

For more information on The Abangqobi Group or to buy the group's latest CD, Limpopo Crossing, you can contact Bongani Nxumalo directly (email: bonxumalo@yahoo.co.uk; telephone: + 27 72 690 9178 or + 27 82 097 3375).

The Mthwakazi Arts and Culture Project

The Mthwakazi Arts and Culture Project
Performance: Lindela

The Mthwakazi Arts and Culture Project is a group of Zimbabwean and South African artists who perform together in Johannesburg. The group teaches art classes, stages traditional dances and runs a community theater group, shown here. "Umthwakazi" is an ancient name for the region in Zimbabwe that's home to the minority Ndebele people. The word recalls a time in Zimbabwean history when people lived peacefully - before colonialism took root and Robert Mugabe came to power. As Mthwakazi theater director Mbiko Moyo explained to us over coffee in Johannesburg, "umthwakazi" also means a tree that shades and shelters and welcomes all people under its leafy branches.

Mbiko told us that the group tries to reflect this history in its mission: rehabilitating trauma victims, educating the public about the crisis in Zimbabwe, and promoting integration between Zimbabweans and South Africans. Some of the actors in the theater group were drawn from the Johannesburg-based Zimbabwe Torture Victims Project, where Mbiko works. Others are former members of Mugabe's youth militia and even South African rape survivors.

We watched the Mthwakazi players rehearse inside a small recreation center in Yeoville, one of Johannesburg's oldest suburbs. The theater group's plays offer a quick response to the ever-changing situation in Zimbabwe and provide the refugee community in South Africa with an outlet for their anger and grief.

The scene the Mthwakazi actors perform here is from the play Lindela. It's a reflection of life inside the Lindela Detention Center, just outside Johannesburg. Zimbabweans living in South Africa fear Lindela. Every week, thousands are rounded up and detained there, and it's the last stop before they're deported home. In this scene, the actors describe the experience of living illegally in Johannesburg: the daily struggle to survive, the injustice of having to live in constant fear of being arrested and the horrible conditions that await them on the 17-hour deportation trip by train to Zimbabwe's border.

Alexis Alexis Bloom: Reporter/ Producer
Alexis Bloom was born in South Africa, educated in England and America, and now lives in New York. She has produced four FRONTLINE/World films: in Zimbabwe, in Kenya, in Nigeria and in Bhutan. She co-produced a one-hour film about global health for the NOVA series Rx for Survival and also co-produced Switch on Bhutan, a documentary film that screened in festivals across the United States and in Europe. Bloom has written articles for various newspapers (including The Observer and The New York Times) and has also worked as a producer on shows for the National Geographic Channel, in countries that include Papua New Guinea, Guyana and Mongolia.

Cassandra Cassandra Herrman: Producer / Camera
Cassandra Herrman is a producer and videographer based in Berkeley, California. She recently produced and shot a one-hour documentary for MSNBC on the immigration crisis along the California-Mexico border. For the PBS series FRONTLINE/World, she has photographed and produced stories about nuclear arms smuggling in South Africa; the humanitarian crisis in Sudan's Darfur region; female runners in Kenya; Nigerian women living under sharia law; and the political and economic crisis in Venezuela. Girls in Trouble, a one-hour documentary she produced about girls in the juvenile justice system, aired on MSNBC in December 2004. She is currently co-producing an independent documentary on an undercover drug sting in a small Texas town. Herrman earned a master's degree in journalism from U.C. Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism.

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