A man of the people

A new play, Black Lover, tells the story of Sir Garfield Todd, the New Zealander hailed as both a hero and a villain for opposing white minority rule in Rhodesia.

 

BLACK LIVES always mattered to Garfield Todd, whether it was delivering babies for African families at the medical clinic he set up with wife Grace, improving access to education for their children, or campaigning to increase their voting rights. His opponents scathingly called him a “black lover”; in the 1950s, Todd’s own party forced him out of power as Prime Minister of Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), and he was later banned from leaving the country and repeatedly placed under house arrest for speaking out against the inequities of white rule. But to his supporters, the term, meant as an insult, had a very different meaning.

“His name is so big in Africa, but people here don’t realise it,” says Stanley Makuwe, a psychiatric nurse and award-winning playwright who came to Auckland from Zimbabwe in 2002. “I decided to write a play so New Zealanders get to know the story of this man who was so brave and did so much for Africans.”Born in Invercargill, Todd arrived in Rhodesia as a missionary in 1934, naming the ranch where he lived “Hokonui” after a range of hills in Southland. Locals held him in such high esteem baby boys were often named after him. “Not Garfield; they liked Todd,” says Makuwe, who lived in the nearby Shurugwi district. “But the whites, they didn’t want him. He was opposed to everything they believed in.” Black Lover imagines a day in Todd’s life under house arrest in 1965 (the season runs at Auckland’s Q Theatre from 6 March to 4 April).

The play, with Cameron Rhodes in the lead role and Simbarashe Matshe as his servant Steady, is described by director Roy Ward as a “dynamic, intense and often very funny exchange between two men caught up in tumultuous times”.