I remember so clearly coming across the events that inspired The Tunnel. I remember it clearly, because everything after was a blur, until suddenly I had a script in my hands. I didn’t even feel as if I’d had a choice – It was a story that had to be told.
Like the rest of the world, I’d looked at Zimbabwe as a beacon of hope – a place to watch in envy from my often troubled home in South Africa. But, it was in these early days of freedom that terrible deeds were conducted in secret, away from optimistic global eyes, overseen by the country’s new president, Robert Mugabe. Fueled by age old tribal disputes, Mugabe dispatched an army, the 5th Brigade, into the opposition territory of Matabeleland, were a campaign of terror was waged against rural civilians. Mugabe christened these campaigns ‘Gukurahundi’, translated as ‘The rain that washes away the chaff’.
It was a terrible time, when people did terrible things to each other. So much so, that they are difficult to believe. I felt like a child, discovering the truth, growing up as I did. I couldn’t show it any other way than through the eyes of a child. So Elizabeth was born. I wanted to recreate the world in which we grow up: Where our toys can talk and our parents are invincible, though as invincible as we are. I sought to draw out the themes of the magic of childhood and innocence lost. They serve as the double edged sword, allowing us a way of dealing with the truth, but then making the truth even more horrific in comparison when we can finally hide from it no longer.
At the same time, I wanted to tell a story: No matter what deprivation or chaos, Africa is staggeringly rich in stories. This cultural vein runs deep. To do it justice, to bring a truly African narrative style to the world I would need an arch-story-teller, an African Scheherazade, someone who could guide us through sorrow, through to the other side. And so Elizabeth became ‘Rabbit’: the trouble maker, the perpetual youth and the teller of stories.
I hope Elizabeth tells her story well. I hope it flows through you as it did through me.