Show Hide image

Cont Mhlanga: The way I see it

The Zimbabwean playwright on love: of his wife, of the spiritual, of his country

Does art make a difference?

Yes, more so if you apply it as a tool for social change and as a utility product. It makes another type of difference if applied as an industrial product. Picture an artist in Africa, working in his open studio under a tree in his village. He produces this wonderful piece of art that he takes to the roadside, and before anyone in the village sets their eyes on it, a car stops and it is bought by a British businessman, who wraps it nicely before anyone sees it. A week later he flies back to his nice home in the UK and places the artwork in his bedroom. And he is a bachelor. The artist back home goes to town to buy a blanket. So in this case the art that no one has seen, in both Africa and the UK (except the two individuals that exchanged it) has only contributed to keeping the person working in the blanket factory employed. Both ways of making a difference have their own merits, but I always go for social change and utility.

Should politics and art mix?

Politics and art are twins, one male and the other female. The two should be allowed to mate to create new positive life.

Is your work for the many or for the few?

My work is from the many, for the many, directed to the few who are in positions of power and influence and tend to mess up the world for the many.

Which artist do you most admire?

My wife. A wonderful actress, singer, dancer and bass guitarist. On the world stage I admire Hugh Masekela.

Which product, if any, would you advertise?

Natural and herbal foods.

If you weren’t an artist, what would you be?

A criminal, and I would most probably be in prison for life by now.

If you were world leader, what would be your first law?

Tough question because the world is not as flat as a soccer pitch. I would, however, introduce an annual levy on each weapon of war in each country.

Who would be your top advisers?

Those who have proved to be highly competent in the fields that I aim to make decisions on. I would also train myself to speak with the dead and I would draw from their experiences and wisdom.

Who would you banish?

The way I prefer to handle issues, I would never find any reason to banish anyone.

What are the rules that you live by?

Spiritual rules.

Do you love your country?

Yes; its people, its history and its heritage. From these we can create a country of unlimited possibilities.

Are we all doomed?

If we just focus on science and money while ignoring the elimination of world poverty, the embracing of deeper spiritualism in all its forms and being protective and sensitive to nature, then we are all doomed for sure.

Cont Mhlanga is a satirist from Zimbabwe. Last year, he won the first Orient Global Freedom to Create Prize, which celebrates the role of art in promoting human rights

This article first appeared in the 18 May 2009 issue of the New Statesman, Rock bottom