Women Without Husbands: A Reflection of Black Girl Problems (First Published on Sunday News)
UPON hearing the play’s title, Women without husbands, one might assume that the contents of the play include a bunch of women musing over their by gone glory years and lamenting over how they still have not found appropriate suitors.
Yet with Raisedon Baya’s literary genius, coupled with Memory Kumbota’s unmatched directorial skills and an all new, all female cast, Women without husbands manages to address genuine problems facing women in Zimbabwe or what the internet would call #BlackGirlStruggles.
The five women in the play each stand for something different that affects women and naturally audience members may find themselves identifying with one or more of the five characters.
MaNtuli, played by Memory Mguni is a housemaid between her late 30s to early 40s. She stands for the traditional woman who focuses on her duties as the perfect wife. Although her husband has been away for six years, she still quite naively believes that he will come back for her although he has not made contact for a while. Eventually she learns that her husband has been living with another woman.
Mguni’s portrayal of MaNtuli perhaps invokes the audience’s sympathy because she stands for the woman who does everything right and yet somehow fails to get the man in the end. She represents the many women who look past reason and practicality to defend their husbands even when everyone else around them sees that there is not much to wait around for.
Women who have put their lives on hold for men who do not come through for them will definitely identify with MaNtuli.
MaNtuli’s employer, Femi, played by Angel Mpofu is a small business owner, left by her husband because she could not conceive. However, it turns out it was her husband who was sterile. For the most part of the play, Femi is the voice of reason, giving advice to her maid and her younger sister. Towards the end of the play, her business is going under and she is faced with the dilemma of either accepting help from her former husband or letting her business collapse.
Femi will be best understood by the Miss Independents of this world. She represents the woman who rises above rejection and being told that she is not good enough and comes out of that perhaps stronger than she was before. Femi is a lightning rod for everyone else and deals with everyone else’s dysfunction. Unfortunately, Femi also represents the woman who has been so strong for so long that she has been told that she cannot cry or show emotion at any level. This makes her slightly bitter and at a time when she really needs help from her ex-husband her bitterness gets the better of her. Sadly at her lowest, the people she has been there for are nowhere around and in the end, she resorts to alcohol for comfort.
Delicacy Ngulube plays Nikiwe, Femi’s younger sister. Nikiwe is your typical contemporary black woman. She has a mind of her own and rejects what are culturally viewed as gender roles. Nikiwe is a radical thinker. She believes in the right to own one’s sexuality and when she finally decides to settle down, she goes to extreme lengths such as stealing money from the company she works for to give her future husband to pay her lobola. Tragically, shortly after her wedding, her husband leaves her.
The youth are most likely to see a bit of themselves in Nikiwe. She embodies every twenty something that has fallen hopelessly in love to a point where they do something that is not only irrational but illegal as well. Nikiwe symbolises how for most women, although they may try to fight against the cultural system; it somehow comes to bite them in the back. Nikiwe, paying her own lobola is her way of challenging the system, but it is the system that sees her thrown out of her matrimonial home because of her failure as a traditional bride.
Femi and Nikiwe’s aunt, played by Louisiana Charumbira makes a cameo appearance in a flashback scene. She tells Nikiwe what is expected of a young bride. She tells her niece of how everything she does from the wedding day onwards should be to the pleasure of her husband.
The fifth cast member is Qabujile, a work associate of Femi’s. Qabujile is played by Charlene Ndlovu and perhaps the only character in the play who is not attached to any man. She does not possess any of the obvious man problems that her fellow cast members reflect. However, throughout the play, Qabujile has a very detached mannerism about her. She represents women who are perhaps too rational. They neglect to ponder over emotional considerations when making decisions. Qabujile walks out on Femi when Femi is having a break down and when she (Qabujile) loses her job, she does not take time to reminisce on her lost job but starts to think of where to find another one. Qabujile ends up coming off as a very unsentimental human being.
These five women have through their dynamic characters managed to capture the essence of what it is to be a black woman in a contemporary African setting.