Zimbabwe News and Internet Radio

Playwright, theatre icon Walter Muparutsa dies

HARARE- Prominent television, radio, theatre and film actor Walter Muparutsa passed away Thursday evening at the Avenues Clinic after succumbing to complications that arose during a blood transfusion. His family said this marked the end of a long and brave fight against non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. He was 72 years old.

Walter Muparutsa
Zimbabwean theatre and film icon Walter Muparutsa (left)

An official statement from the Muparutsa Family said Walter will be buried in Harare on Sunday afternoon at Glen Forest at 2pm, following a 9am morning Church service at the Kuwadzana Methodist Church. He is survived by wife Sarah, seven children and 12 grandchildren.

Mourners are gathered at his house at number 29 Pollett Avenue in Belvedere.

Family spokesman Cledwyn Taka Muparutsa said, “My father had a special place in his heart for everyone. As a family we learnt to share him with the artistic community which we felt sometimes came first for him, so that we had to find our place within that space.

“As a father, he was never imposing, allowing everyone of us their say – consummately democratic. As a grandfather, he had a magical relationship with all his grandchildren.

“In the family outside the biological one to which we belonged, my father approached everything with a passion that saw him become a staunch advocate for freedom, particularly artistic freedom and democracy.

“Naturally, we all got caught up in his passion and became part of that artistic community. For him, life was art and art was life. We will sorely miss him…”

Walter Muparutsa began his acting career way back in the late 1960s when he founded the Chiedza Drama Club in the then Harare (now Mbare) High Density suburb.

Around the same period, he also founded and chaired the Anglican Young Peoples Association at St. Michaels in Mbare, which staged religious plays. Walter adapted plays from Shona novels and wrote scripts, rehearsed, directed and toured plays around greater Harare.

Born on 23 March 1941, Walter Muparutsa did his education at St. Augustine’s Mission Penhalonga, Ranch House and Luveve Technical College. From 1963 – 1973 he worked for the Rhodesia Literature Bureaus (Literature Bureau) where he rose from Editorial Officer to Head Editorial Officer (Shona Section).

He was responsible for, among other things, conducting writers’ workshops/seminars, reading and selecting publishable Shona & English manuscripts and writing book reviews in Shona and English. He was also a presenter for the radio educational programme “Learning does not end/Kudzidza Hakuperi/ Ukufunda Akupheli”.

Muparutsa was involved in the activities of Silveira House (Catholic Youth Training Centre) where he assisted in the formation of Mabvuku Catholic Youth Drama Club and Conducted workshops (theatre acting skills and writing plays), seminars and leadership courses.

In 1970 he joined Sundown Theatre, a professional theatre group under John Haig at Prince Edward School, leading to him taking his first professional and lead role in Wole Soyinka’s famous play, Kongi’s Harvest.

In the 1980s awards, he won the award for Best Actor in the National Winterfest Theatre Festival for his role in Athol Fugard’s Nongogo, as adjudicated by RADA Theatre Practitioners from the United Kingdom, becoming the first black person to win this award in post independent Zimbabwe.

In 1983 he shared the Best Actor Award with stage compatriot Dominici Kanaventi in Andrew Whaley’s play Platform Four.

In 1986 – 1987, he was appointed Adjudicator for the National Winterfest High Schools Theatre Festival. He was further appointed for similar roles as the 2005–2006 National Theatre Monitor/Adjudicator for the National Arts Council of Zimbabwe’s National Arts Merit Awards (NAMA).

Walter was an out-and-out craftsman for stage and screen. He was a writer, director, producer, promoter and actor (Radio, Television, Theatre, and Film & Crafts). In 1997/98 he coordinated the national theatre programme of the project Entertainers Against AIDS: Theatre And Music.

In 2004/5 he directed two South African Plays: The Island and Sizwe Bansi Is Dead to celebrate 10 years of freedom and democracy in South Africa for that country’s diplomatic mission in Harare. Theatre buffs will recall that, with Kanaventi, Walter had popularized these plays back in 1985/86 to much critical acclaim.

Walter proceeded to demonstrate the critical role of the arts in developmental issues through the 2004 radio serial drama for Media for Development (MFD) English/Shona “Mopani Junction”, featuring 104 Shona and English episodes.

Over the years and for many years he was involved in numerous theatre related activities with institutions and festivals such as the Zimbabwe International Film Festival, Harare International Festival of the Arts – HIFA , Chimanimani Arts Festival, Manica Arts Fest, Dzimbabwe Arts Festival UNDP Artists Against Poverty Programme, Global Arts Trust: Director and Consultant, Pamberi Trust, Consultant, Media for Development International Inc. (Colorado, USA) for the production of a Ugandan radio serial drama.

Walter trained and worked with Radio Drama producers, directors, production managers, engineers and artists, giving technical advice in the production and post-production phases of recording the first cycle using completed scripts.

He was a consultant for the W K Kellogg Foundation/Africa University/Chimanimani Rural District Partnership Programme, the annual Dag Hammarskjold by the Swedish Embassy and the W K Kellogg’s Indian American Institute of Arts (IAIA) cultural exchange programme with Native Americans and Tengenenge artists.

In 2008/9 he founded the Zimbabwe Theatre Association (ZiTA) and registered it with the National Arts Council of Zimbabwe.

Walter Muparutsa’s Milestones:

In Theatre

1980 -Awarded Best Actor in the National Winterfest Theatre Festival for role in Athol Fugard’s Nongogo, as adjudicated by RADA Theatre Practitioners from the United Kingdom.

1983 – Won Best Actor award again jointly with Dominici Kanaventi in Andrew Whaley’s play Platform Four.

2002 -Awarded Best Actor and Best Script (NAMA) in a one hander “Rags & Garbage” written by Raisedon Baya. Concept and story line supplied by Walter Muparutsa.

2004 – Awarded Best Director (NAMA) for the play “Wedding Night” by Stephen Chifunyise

2005 – 2006 -Nominated NAMA 2005 for outstanding production for Sizwe Bansi Is dead.

2005 – 2006 – Winner of the National Arts Council of Zimbabwe Silver Jubilee Award for theatre.

In Film

1991  Actor in Peak Practice, a British Television medical drama series.

1992  Actor as Aristotle in an African called Cinema.

1992  Actor in Cry Freedom, a film on the South African rights activist, Steve Biko.

1994  Actor in Citizen Chii by Andrew Whaley.

1995  Actor in The Power of One, Congo and Everyone’s Child

1996  Actor in Kini and Adam, a film directed by Burkinabe.

1998  Actor in the films Choose Freedom by the Scripture Union and The Last Picture by Farai Sevenzo.

1999  Actor in the film Yellow Card directed by John Riber.

2002  Actor in Face to face, a Rooftop Production directed by Godwin Mawuru.

1995/2002  Artistic Coordinator at Rooftop Promotions

Acted in Waiters, a comedy soap on reconciliation, featuring a multi-racial cast including Bart Wolffe and Dylan Wilson-Max

Acted in Citizen Chii which was later turned into a film.

Compiled by Daves Guzha, Rooftop Promotions, with Ray Mawerera and input from National Arts Council of Zimbabwe director Elvas Mari.