Malindadzimu, or ‘Hill of the Ancestral Spirits’, refers to a summit situated within the Matobo Hills in South-West Zimbabwe.
Home to a number of important shrines sacred to the Mwari/ Mwali religion, the Matobo Hills are also where Mzilikazi, founder of the Southern African Ndebele (Matabele) kingdom, was buried. Then, after his death in 1902, Malindadzimu also suddenly became home to the burial site of British imperialist Cecil John Rhodes.
The title of Mufaro Makubika’s second play – following Shebeen, which won the 2017 Alfred Fagon Award – references the controversial presence of Rhodes’ burial site in the sacred area Malindadzimu. Indeed, this is the central conflict of the play: Hope (played by Kudzai Mangombe) is instructed by her ancestor Lobengula (played by Sifiso Mazibuko) to remove Cecil Rhodes from the land. Hope is understandably unsure how this might be done: she might be able to dig up Rhodes’ grave, but is it possible to ever truly remove the damage he inflicted upon Zimbabwe? However, when Lobengula threatens to remove ‘something close…someone you value’, Hope fears that her failure to remove Rhodes might result in her losing her mother, Faith (played by Shyko Amos).
A driving concern of the play thus unfolds, the conflict between British and Zimbabwean worldviews. In the opening scene, for example, we see Hope in a hospital bed recovering from a recent drug overdose that she desperately seeks to hide from her mother. As the play develops and Hope and Faith move to Zimbabwe, however, it becomes ambiguous whether Hope is experiencing hallucinations and symptoms of depression or if she is genuinely being visited by the spirit of her ancestor Lobengula. The juxtaposition between British and Zimbabwean worldviews then heightens in the conflict between Faith and her housekeeper Gogo (played by Natasha Williams), as Gogo tries to teach Hope about the Zimbabwean culture and religion that Faith, a Rhodes scholar, has distanced herself from.
While it sometimes felt as though British and Zimbabwean perspectives were being simplified so as to reinforce their differences, the story was nevertheless effectively fuelled by the relationship between Hope and Faith. Although it was sometimes unclear what age her character was supposed to be, Mangombe – in her professional debut – did an excellent job at conveying the shifting and complex emotions experienced by Hope. This was brilliantly complemented by Amos’ depiction of Faith as a single mother, desperate to do the best and appear strong for her teenage daughter, yet simultaneously struggling to feel at home in the country she was born in.
Natasha Williams’ depiction of Gogo was particularly scene-stealing. With subtle details – a slight mistiness in her eyes, a slight smile upon her lips – Williams conveyed the warmth Gogo feels for Hope; her desire for the daughter she never had. While Hope and Faith’s scenes were often emotionally fraught, Williams provided excellent comic release – a particularly effective moment being when she pretended she had hurt her back, but, turned away from Hope and Faith, cheekily smiled between howling melodramatically in pain.
Altogether, Malindadzimu is a prescient reminder of the ongoing legacy of colonialism encapsulated within a moving story of the relationship between a mother and daughter. The performances of the cast effectively complemented each other, while Monique Touko’s directorial choices – particularly the stage’s translucent backdrop – effectively brought the themes of Makubika’s play, and its imperative embedding in the Zimbabwean landscape, to the forefront.
With the production representing the second of Makubika’s plays, and the professional debuts of actor Mangombe and director Touko, I look forward to seeing what work this company goes on to develop in the future.
Malindadzimu plays at Hampstead Theatre until October 30th. Book tickets and find out more here.