6 November 2014 15:12

Lancaster has long provided the catalyst for young writers in Africa to overcome the barriers many face as they begin their writing career through online mentoring with experienced writers. 

Partnering with the British Council, the Department of English and Creative Writing at Lancaster University started Crossing Borders in 2001, with the aim to build a new international community of writers.

Now Chris Mlalazi, who was mentored for 6 months through the Crossing Borders project, and fellow playwright Thabani Moyo are using street theatre as a powerful tool to influence and educate Zimbabwean communities about Ebola.

Although there has not been a single case of Ebola in the country, Zimbabwe remains on high alert and there is widespread anxiety about the disease. 

The biggest challenge to containing Ebola in West Africa has been public misinformation and dispelling myths about the disease. The play, which is provisionally entitled ‘Isolated’, uses vernacular non-biomedical language to relay vital information about the virus.

Chris said: “The Government and NGO awareness campaigns come short where there is illiteracy in the target group – because our medium is oral and can be easily digested, the play is designed to fill in the gap in these awareness campaigns.

“Also people will more readily go and watch a street play because of its entertainment value than read a newspaper or listen to the news on the TV or radio, so we’re hoping the play will be a great teaching tool.”

The play, which is set to premiere in November, tells the story of the disastrous chain of events which result from a false alarm triggered by the admission of a patient suspected to be suffering from Ebola.

Since completing the Crossing Borders project in 2004, Chris has written several plays, novels and short stories, many of which have won awards, such as the 2008 Oxfam Novib/PEN International Free Expression Award, which recognises writers who continue to work for the freedom of expression despite opposition.

Speaking about the Crossing Borders project, Chris said: “Since then I have never looked in terms of my writing career. I now write with the confidence instilled in me by the tutorials I had with my mentor, Michael Wherly.”

Professor Graham Mort, who directed the Crossing Borders project from 2001 to 2006 said: “We have worked with a new generation of young African writers and helped to develop their talents. Chris Mlalazi was one of those writers and it's great to see such commitment to the idea that literature and live performance can change society in beneficial ways.”

Chris Mlalazi and Thabani Moyo are looking for partners to help take their play on a nationwide tour of Zimbabwe; for more information please email chrismlalazi@gmail.com.