THEATRE / Breathing lines of fire: Thirteen years ago, George Seremba was dragged in front of a Ugandan firing squad and shot. Amazingly he survived. He is now reliving the experience on stage. Richard Dowden reports

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The Independent Culture
In a forest clearing in Uganda on 10 December 1980, George Seremba was shot by a firing squad. Six bullets hit him. He knew he was dead. But he lived.

He managed to crawl away into a swamp and was rescued by a boy from the local village.

In a bullet-by-bullet reenactment of his trauma - and survival - Seremba has created a play called Come Good Rain which opens this week in London. Though he re-enacts his last moments every night, he winced when I probed for the details. His eyes are still pained but sometimes his face bursts into a huge grin. Even an execution has its comical moments. He describes each performance as cathartic but even after 13 years the memory is difficult to touch.

He grew up during the rule of Idi Amin. Ever anti- authoritarian, his dissident activities at Makerere University were noticed and he went into exile in Kenya. After Amin was overthrown in 1979 he saw a moment of hope slip away. 'It was terrible to see the clouds gather again after the nightmare of Amin. It is difficult to understand that Amin would be replaced by something worse. But more people died under Obote's second presidency than the eight years of Amin.'

During the election which brought Milton Obote back to power, Seremba returned to Uganda from Nairobi hoping to slip in and out of the country unnoticed. On election night he went to the university campus. He didn't know the soldiers had come for him when he saw two jeeps drive into the university grounds. They had been tipped off. He had gone to visit a blind friend and his wife. 'I had a premonition . . . there was something tugging at my nerves. I decided to leave but it was too late. Too late - the most expressive words in the English language.'

The soldiers burst in and asked for him. He stayed silent but when they started beating up the blind man and his wife he identified himself . At Nile Mansions, the flashy Kampala hotel taken over by the army, he was tortured. 'To say it was brutal was an understatement. I watched a man turn into a beast. I felt my spirit leave my body and I thought 'let them do their worst'.'

'As I was led away, a soldier said 'kill him' so I knew the die was cast.

All I wanted was for my mother to see my body so she would know I was dead and her agony would not be prolonged. I was taken to Namanve forest outside Kamapala. The chosen spot was a few metres away from a memorial they were building to the memory of those who died under Idi Amin. Even then the irony did not escape me. My last request was that they should not shoot me in the back.'

'Two of the bullets went into my right leg, one hit my head, one my hand here, one went through my right arm and another through my left ankle. I could see the bullets coming at me. I was just waiting for the one I wouldn't see. Then they fired a grenade launcher and a piece of shrapnel went into my thigh. I was half into the swamp but I managed to crawl away and then I lost consciousness. I came round not knowing where I was but the coming togther of spirit and body ignited the pain. I could hardly move.'

He remembered the story of Nsimb'egwire, the Ganda equivalent of Snow White, the beautiful girl whose wicked stepmother takes her into the forest and leaves her there. Nsimb'egwire was hovering over my head like a guardian angel. I crawled to the road and saw a little boy - a boy the same age as Nsimb'egwire . . . The boy went to the village and got help and they carried me back to the village.'

The people of that village, Bweyogerere, were the inspiration for the play and in 1989 Seremba went back to thank them. 'I was like an adopted son. No one had ever come out of Namanve alive. I was the first one they ever saw.'

Eventually Seremba escaped to Kenya and then emigrated to Canada where he became a playwright. In writing Come Good Rain Seremba said: 'It was hard to walk through the minefield of emotions. But now I feel emotionally lighter.

And when I perform it I think of the hundreds, the thousands of Ugandans who did not live to tell their story.'

To 7 Nov at the Tricycle, London, NW6 (071-328 1000)

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