The househelps stay silent

Friday November 13 2020

A scene from the play 'Closing Argument,' which premiered in Kigali. PHOTO | Andrew. I Kazibwe


We live with them if we don't see them at our neighbours - or, well, we are them. They are the househelps; the unsung heroes.

And now they are immortalized in theatre thanks to Closing Argument which has been running at the Ishyo Art Centre.

The play introduces a cast of three women and one man, who interchangeably take on various roles throughout the staging.

In the play, a troubled female house help is subjected to an abusive repetitive routine of verbal insults, physical and sexual assault. On learning of what goes on, her abuser employer's wife turns a deaf ear only advising silence.

The play, which is acted in Ikinyarwanda, French and English, reveal how maids are converted to work machines and tortured.

In a strange twist, the househelp is taken to court and accused of aggravated assault. It is at the court that we learn the househelp has chopped off her abuser's private parts in a scuffle.


In the middle of the set, the cast pauses for the audience to have a feel of the "voiceless" unsung heroes. Audio recordings of various labourers are played, showing the ruthless, inhuman, and unjust treatment maids face as they submit to their bosses.

This mistreatment is a reflection of the many wars, genocides, and atrocities that have been recorded, including xenophobia attacks, killing in the Democratic Republic of Congo, ‘Black Live Matter' in the US or Nigeria’s Police brutality.

The play leaves us asking how much the law can defend househelps. This production follows a series of workshops organised by Ishyo Arts Centre in Kigali and curated by Israel Kipamba (DRC), Karishma Bhagani (Kenya), and Carole Karemera (Rwanda).

According to Carole Karemera, this has been an emotional journey to her as a mother, a woman, and a Rwandan citizen in questioning how blind and ignorant she has been about the situation.

“Theatre can play a role in making the invisible visible,” she adds.

Initial plans were for the play to be staged in people’s homes but for the Covid-19 lockdown.

Written by Mike Van Grann, a South African writer and Activist,  the play co-directed by Kenya's Karishma Bhagani Paresh and Carole Karemera from Rwanda is one of the plays produced by Beyond Caring,  a project, exploring the living and working conditions of domestic workers in Rwanda and DRC.