Why Theatre




Theatre for Development originated in the late 1970’s as an effective and appropriate medium for communicating with rural communities in developing countries where existing media systems had failed to serve the needs of development in Africa. The failure was due to the cultural gap existing between the urban class who were in charge of those media, and the rural communities.

Theatre is now widely regarded as an effective medium for spreading information in rural communities.

  • It is democratic – audiences play a major role in producing and distributing messages;
  • It is de-centralised;
  • It is capable of integrating indigenous and popular systems of communication;
  • It is technologically appropriate, relying on human resources;
  • It uses interpersonal channels, rather than the mediated channels of electronic and print media.
    (Zakes Mda, When People Play People) 

    Non-threatening communication techniques:

    Theatre has the additional advantage of being an immediate form of communication, which addresses problems in an integrated manner. The audience is engaged emotionally and mentally, and the use of humour and other dramatic devices encourage participants to speak without the inhibitions which formal meetings or other communication systems perpetuate.


    Seka is committed to interactive discussion within the communities that is capable of changing attitudes and generating change. “To create messages does not mean merely to respond to messages created by external agents about innovations, but to initiate the process of communication, so that the most disadvantaged members in the community, involved in the culture of silence, can express their political, social and economic needs.” (Zakes Mda). Seka’s intensive research and participatory method allows people to take ownership of their problems as well as the solutions to these issues.

Grass-roots decision making:

The processes that Seka employs are guided by the needs of the community, rather than imposing an outside agenda. Two way communication allows the content of future development programmes to be shaped according to these needs.

Action and follow-up:

When used effectively, Theatre stimulates action rather than allowing debate to stagnate at a ‘talk-shop’ level.

Some of the Issues and some Results

An example:

The BEST CHOICE Campaign – Combating Child Labour through Education

Although the term ‘child labour’ usually bring to mind children working day and night in a sweat shop, there are other types of child labour – hidden types in the rural areas of Zambia that no-one really thinks about. For example, children herding cattle, or carrying out household chores that keep them from attending school. Child labour is defined as work that harms the child’s emotional, physical or psychological welfare and/or work that interferes with the child’s education.

The BEST CHOICE Campaign was designed to combat this type of child labour – through education. Working under the Ministry of Education (in collaboration with the Ministry of Community Development and Social Services and Ministry of Labour and Social Security), it was funded by the US Department of labour and implemented by American Institutes for Research . Seka was subcontracted to carry out the community mobilisation and awareness-raising component.  During our research we worked with the social, economic and cultural reasons for the child labour found in the area, people’s perceptions, suggested interventions and much more. These issues were then woven into the plays, with interaction from the audience and suggested interventions leading to results. Some of the solutions that the community came up with (and implemented) were:

Problem: Lack of teachers’ houses and classroom blocks.

Solution: Community members built classroom blocks and teachers houses (moulded the bricks, ferried the sand and other building materials)

Problem: Children herding cattle all day long and not having time to go to school. Children finding cattle herding more interesting than school.

Solution: Parents came up with a duty roster for herding the cattle to allow the children to go to school. Children herded cattle on the weekends. Parents built ‘play parks’ in the schools using natural materials to make school more enticing for the children.

Problem: Early pregnancies – young girls getting pregnant at 13 or 14 years of age.

Solution: The community requested that we sit with the women initiators to look at the content of the initiation teachings. These are are sometimes explicit, leading to children wanting to experiment sexually at an early age. We collaborated with the initiation teachers to add an HIV component to the initiations. These workshops were conducted in a very sensitive manner and to great success