It is not your everyday ‘high school musical’ – but a musical nonetheless. Yes: Chengelo School, a Christian, co-educational boarding school situated in the Mkushi Farming Block, crossed 350 kilometres to bring their message against early marriage to a Lusaka audience at the National Institute for Public Administration (NIPA) auditorium. KAUSA MBASELA reports…
The drama, titled Toliwe –The Plight of The Girl Child, highlighted the battle between accepting the need for the girl-child to be educated (something seen as a western cultural thing) or become a housewife.
The musical depicts some of the harsh realities mostly in rural areas where parents, with relatively poor educational backgrounds, force their daughters into illegal matrimonial unions.
It unfolds in a modest village setup where young girls are regularly denied the chance to complete their education. The production also narrows down on the role of traditional leaders, civil society and the local communities in protecting the rights of young girls in the country at different levels.
Toliwe – played by Taonga Chilinda – a high spirited young girl struggling with the whims of her father, Zango – played by Josuha Matewere who is keen on marrying off his daughter to a wealthy widower, Chisanga – played by Kadimbili Chinyama for the prospect of owning a chigayo (hammer mill).
Zango is notoriously hilarious but nails his act and sends the message across to the packed auditorium. He is reminiscent of a husband and father who believes that women are not equal partners and must therefore accept all decisions made by men.
The cast looked more like seasoned theatre actors than pupils. The projection of their voices was undone only by the glitches from the microphones which fluctuated occasionally.
The lighting was utilitarian and sufficed if what you were looking forward to was a night out for some amateur theatrical.
The production team, headed by one of the three playwrights, Elton Nyirenda paid attention to detail, going the extra mile to provide props to depict different scenarios to help tell the story in a manner befitting of a classic drama.
The play itself starts off from what should be its end, Toliwe visiting Judy, Harriet and Brenda – workers of a non-governmental organisation (NGO) which advocates the girl child’s rights. She narrates her ordeal (which is the act itself), taking the audience through different phases in Toliwe’s life; from school to being forced into an abusive marriage, attempting to leave that marriage and forced back by Zango – her father until finally she visits the NGO.
Her knowledge of where to get help was from an encounter with a former class mate and an unrelenting crusade by a school teacher Magesi – played by Mulunde Maiseke who confronts the parents, discouraging them from forcing their children into early marriages.
One is reminded of a scene when Magesi is trying to make his point during a parents/teachers association (PTA) meeting and is hounded by the locals. He is left shaken but remains resolute to save the plight of the girl-child.
The audience is served with a cocktail of humour, music and dance – no doubt the traditional leadership present – Senior Chief Musele and Chief Mumena from North Western Province, having a very good laugh.
The two chiefs were in Lusaka at the invitation of First Quantum Minerals (FQM) for a Girls’ Mentorship programme for 20 school girls and six teachers from different schools in Solwezi and Kalumbila districts. The girls, teachers and FQM officials led by Country Manager Kingsley Chinkuli visited Vice-President Inonge Wina after a meeting with the two chiefs.
Most traditional beliefs and norms suggest that girls should not attain any significant levels of education, but rather stay at home to become housewives whose main functions are to cook food and raise children.
According to the School Head of Secondary Chriss Banda, child and early marriages must be fought head-on to ensure the safety of the girl-child and enhance her chances of a bright future.
“We need concerted efforts from all stakeholders to ensure that these young girls are not robbed of their future and that they are allowed, as far as is possible, to advance academically,’’ says Banda.
‘’Stakeholder participation is key in bringing this terrible trend to an end. Government, traditional leaders, civil society organisations, parents and teachers as well as the girls themselves should all play an active role to fight child, early and forced marriage,’’ he adds.
Banda notes that unless everyone at every level gets involved in fighting the scourge, more young girls will continue to drop out of school and be forced to get married.
In Zambia, 21 is the legal minimum age of marriage for both males and females. However they can marry at 16 with parental consent.
But, enforcement of the law is challenged by inconsistencies with other laws and policies on children, and by a customary system that allows girls to be married off as soon as they reach puberty.
Traditional norms and practices have been major contributing factors to the rise in the scourges.
That has not been helped by the country’s poverty levels, where 60.5 percent of the population is believed to live below the poverty datum line, which has further taken a toll on the young girls. The practice of marrying them off to older (well-to-do) men is seen as an economic solution because of the financial benefit accruing from the bridal price paid to the girls’ family.
In 2013, Government launched a nation-wide campaign to end child marriage. Spearheaded by the Ministry of Chiefs and Traditional Affairs, the campaign prioritised engagement with traditional leaders and law reforms.
In September of the same year, Zambia, in partnership with Canada sponsored the first United Nations (UN) General Assembly resolution on child, early and forced marriage. The two countries went on to sponsor another resolution at the UN General Assembly 69th session in 2014.
Among other steps taken by the Zambian Government was the hosting of the first-ever African Girls’ Summit on Ending Child Marriage in November of 2015.
In March 2016, the Zambian Government adopted a five-year national action plan to end child marriage. Civil society, including the Zambia Ending Child Marriage Non-governmental Organisations Network, was instrumental in initiating and facilitating the development of the national strategy.
Zambia has been ranked 16th among the countries with the highest rate of both child and early marriages. According to World Vision, 42 percent of women aged between 20 and 24 years have been married by the age of 18.
And chiefs Mumena and Musele, from North-Western Province, who graced the occasion echoed Banda’s sentiments.
Chief Mumena noted a greater need for inter-generational synergies in fighting the
vices. The cause being advanced by Chengelo School was worthwhile and needed the support
of everyone because ending child and early marriages would benefit the entire country.
“The creativity by the school to come up with this initiative to communicate such an important message is an eye-opener that needs to be taken seriously.
“We have all been called upon to sharpen the voice against child marriage so that parents and those in the governance system can play an active role in protecting our daughters,” he said and added that traditional leaders needed to engage their people to get actively involved in fighting early child marriages.
Senior Chief Musele observed that the more a frontal assault was declared against the vices, the higher the chances of saving young girls’ lives and giving them a fighting chance to carve bright futures both for themselves and the country at large.
And Elton Nyirenda, revealed that the idea was conceived towards the end of 2015.
”The concept came about from our experiences as we mingled with villages around the country. After some research we discovered that the problem was more deep-rooted than we please to admit and we felt obliged to make an effort to sensitise the rest of the country about some of the horrors the young girls, especially in farflung areas we are dealing with on a daily basis,” he said.
The other authors are Frank Kangwa and Bernadette Gibbons. They are all teachers at Chengelo.