A Play byChristopher Mlalazi
An excerpt from the play. Please contact the author (email@example.com) for rights to perform, publish or use this text in any form.
Afternoon. Enter Digger. He is dressed in only a pair of shorts. He is being brutally beaten by a soldier with a stick, and is screaming from pain and ducking the blows and pleading for his life
Please! Please! No! Don’t hit me! Please!
He screams and runs around, still pleading for his life. Then he grabs a pick from the ground.
I have taken the pick! I have taken the pick! Please don’t hit me! I am digging! I am digging! I was only resting a bit officer.
He starts digging quickly with the pick. There are two other prisoners digging with him. After digging, he picks up a shovel and shovels, then starts digging again. After some time, he replies to something the soldier has said with a forced smile.
Sorry officer? You are going to get some rest? Okay officer, I will continue digging with the others until you come back. This time I wont rest until we are finished like I did before. No officer, I wont try to run away, I know we are surrounded and I can be shot. (His smile becomes huge) Please don’t worry officer, you will find us finished with the digging. See, we are now knee deep, and it will be only a short time before we are this deep (holds his hand to his neck). This one is just about ready. We are hard working people officer. Thank you officer, you can take your rest.
He starts digging and shovelling again grunting with effort. Then he gets into a hysterical argument with one of the grave diggers.
Hey you, why are you digging like that? That is not the proper way to swing a pick when you are digging. Mh, like this?
(He imitates the wrong sideways swing)
What is that? Do you want to hurt me with you pick? Okay, kill me if you want to. I don’t care, we are already dead. Finish me off if you want, and you can bury me here too with the others. What? What did you say about my mother you monkey. What? My mother is a what? What! Okay, you asked for it, I was not born a coward and I have hands….
Digger starts fighting with the other prisoner. In the middle of the fight, another prisoner breaks it up. Digger has an argument with this prisoner.
No, don’t stop us, we have to finish this. What are you doing? Don’t hold me! I said do not hold me!
But the prisoner breaking up the fight wins. Digger cools down and thanks this prisoner . His voice is breathless.
Okay, okay thanks for stopping the fight. Okay, we shouldn’t fight amongst ourselves. I understand. We are in the same dilemma. Sorry, I lost my head. Actually just show me the person cannot lose their head in a situation like this? I am under pressure just as everybody around here is. We are all under pressure. Just look around us. If you remain sane under these circumstances then you are insane. (He addresses the man he has been fighting with) Here, shake hands my friend and fellow prisoner. We are not angry at each other, but at our situation. I understand that. At heart we are still one.
He shakes hands with the guy he has been fighting with. And then shakes with the other two guys.
Shake guys. Shake. And thank you for being there. That is all that life needs where people are in a group, people who can see reason when other’s succumb to the heat of the moment.
Oh, both of you do not come from this village? Yes come to think of it, I know almost everybody from around here, actually I know even every corner to the tiniest grain of sand in my village, and I do not recognise your faces. But have you ever seen me before? Do you know me?
I thought so too. We do not know each other. But how did you get here? Oh, you were also captured in your village and brought here this morning? Okay, I see. Please feel welcome even if we are in a prison. I wish this were a better time and I would have offered you good hospitality in my home, but as you know this barbed wire prison is not my home. It belongs to those killers with guns.
How long have I been here? Well, I have been digging graves and burying bodies here for, let’s see (Pause) yes, I have been here for a week now.
What? You want to hear my story?
He digs for a moment as if in thought.
But do I want to tell you my story? Who would want to talk about pain and suffering? No normal person would want to relieve what I have been through this past week. See my eyes. See my temper. My temper is my tears, for isn’t it said that the tears of a man fall inwards?
And what if I tell you my story? What if you are informers? Yes, what if you work for the soldiers and I find myself in even deeper trouble than this, for, you see, I want to come out of this alive even if everybody around me is dying. Dying like insects when they invade our fields and we spray them with insecticide. My wife and daughter are out there hiding in the countryside, and I have to live to go and search for them.
He shovels, and then pauses. He starts crying.
Okay, okay. It doesn’t matter does it, we are finished. We are all finished. God have mercy on us. This is the end. This is a story that will never be told, but listen carefully – the almighty lives high up there in the sky, and nothing misses his eye.
He digs, and then pauses. Then he abruptly starts telling his story
My name is Digger. Don’t bother about my family name. Maybe you will get to hear of it later, but I shall not tell it to you now. This is not a place to mention family names, for the dead that we are burying might hear them and think that they belong to the people who caused their painful deaths, and when their vengeful spirits come back later looking for revenge, a wrong person might find themselves with mind destroying worms.
He shovels, and then pauses.
You know, it is really strange, that here I am now digging mass graves and filling them up with bodies. I sometimes ask myself if I was really destined for this when my parents gave me my name. Digger. Even before being imprisoned here, I dug graves in a cemetery in the city, and before that I also dug road trenches for a living. That is my life, always digging. But perhaps, as now I have been caught and caged, maybe the prophecy has been fulfilled, and this is the end of the line for me (pause) and my family line.
Digger starts digging and shovelling again, this time furiously. He stops to rest after sometime. He is now speaking in a sad voice, almost as if to himself.
Digger: Crazy as it seems, I am also happy I am doing this. I am burying my own people, the last good thing I can do for them to ensure that their souls rest in ever lasting peace in the land of the ancestors.
Oh MaiHamadziripo my wife! Rudo my daughter! Where are you? Where are you my family? Wherever you are right now, please do not say I did not come to look for you. I came from the city, but I was captured by the soldiers and they have forced me to work for them.
He stops digging and goes down on his knees and covers his eyes. He starts sobbing. After sometime he uncovers his eyes and stands up
While in the city, I heard that the soldiers were now in my village…
He starts shovelling
I had heard all along that they were in the other villages in the south west, I had heard the stories coming from there, unbelievable stories that can even make the blood of a strong man curdle, but I had not thought that they would come to the South to my village, it seemed so far away from where they were. And now they are here.
I read about the German Nazi’s at school, and now I am seeing them born again with my own eyes, and this time under the skin of a black man wearing an army uniform.
And what is this butchering going to do to my daughter if she manages to live through all this as she is of mixed tribe? And my wife too, how are the people of my village going to regard her now for she is of the people of these soldiers?
-Hallo dissident. We have been waiting for the owners of this home to come for a very long time.
-I am not a dissident, I live and work in the city, you can ask Chief Dhliwayo he knows and he can vouch for me.
-all the people of this village are dissidents, everybody, your chief, the children, the women, the men, the old people, even the cows and goats and the trees too. You are all dissidents, and we have been trained to deal with you. And do you know our special motto for dissidents?
-not I don’t!
-the motto is, don’t kill any, capture them all alive.
When I heard that the soldiers were now here in my village, I immediately took a bus from the city to come and try to get my family and bring them back to the safety of the city. The last time I was here was two months ago. In normal times I come every two months to the village so that I do not waste money, and I leave my family enough supplies to last them till I visit again. If they need anything before the next visit, they write to me, sending the letter through Tarumbirwa, the driver of the village bus. In return I give Tarumbirwa whatever is needed and he happily takes it back to my family. I do not pay for this service as I am a regular customer of the bus. Tarumbirwa also calls me his brother-in-law, his tsano as he comes from the same village as my wife even if they are not related and did not know each other till they met in my village. I like Tarumbirwa very much, and he likes me too.
That day at the country bus terminus, Tarumbirwa had depressing news for me.
‘Things are really bad in the village tsano,’ he told me. ‘I came from there last night and what I saw there even animals can’t do. It would be better if you remain in the city tsano, I will bring your wife and daughter back with him in the bus when I make the my return trip tomorrow morning.’