- Last Updated on 05 September 2012
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After suffering immensely from being banned, censored and hated I felt that there is need for protest artists to promote themselves as I am convinced that they matter a lot since they tackle the root causes of the problems that hinder human development and peace. In many instances protest artists are neglected, persecuted, terrorised and given names as they struggle to challenge the status quo artistically. They are rarely anyone's celebrities and are in many cases treated as enemies. Art is an important vehicle for identity formation, facilitating change and a source of entertainment and healing across cultures €. These words were expressed by Viomak, a Zimbabwean born protest singer who is the Zimbabwe Protest Movement (ZIPROMO) founder.
In the 1960s in the then Rhodesia, when the Smith regime was taken head on by the liberation movement forces, a number of repressive laws were passed in order to suppress the voice of the majority ,black people. As a result of this, music began to take a new form and content as musicians realised their duty to speak for the voiceless.
It is not surprising that in post-independence Zimbabwe, art is still being used for purposes of enlightening the disempowered and pumping up the courageous. Art is the domain of the personal and the creative imagination, and it is a space where artists, writers, poets and playwrights operate at the interface of culture and politics sometimes exposing the perhaps less visible and less measurable, yet vital ways in which artists continue to contest culturally specific notions of politics. The arts - painting and sculpture, music and dance, architecture and design, photography and film, drama and literature - have transformed over time into a tool of social empowerment.
ZANU PF after having neglected this vehicle for sometime, especially after independence , came back guns blazing after the 2000 draft constitution referendum, through a well orchestrated arts campaign led by the then Minister of Information, Professor Jonathan Moyo. By both monopolising and abusing the state media. The so called 'patriotic history' agenda has been solidly backed by a profound cultural nationalist project where art and culture have been cynically exploited to popularize its otherwise false 'patriotic history'. Dissenting voices have been silenced using an arsenal of repressive legislation, including the Censorship and Entertainment Act', to block out any narratives that might undermine or question the veracity and purpose of the ZANU-PF's 'patriotic history'.
The censorship of protest art by the Zimbabwean Government is used to expose what happens to artists when their work dares to challenge Zanu PF's so called patriotic history. This follows the recent Board of Censorship's ban of the play "No Voice No Choice € written by prominent theatre practitioner Tafadzwa Muzondo, alleging that it was "inciteful and against the spirit of national healing and reconciliation €.
At a time when the people of Zimbabwe are expecting officials to help heal the wounds created by the many of ZANU- PF's moments of madness, it is sad that the same authorities on the other hand continue to supress people's expressions. This casts doubt on the commitment of the Inclusive Government of ensuring freedom of expression.
Below are some empirical examples of the worry-some trends of harassment of protest artists:
· In November 2011, the Book CafÃ© was shut down after state security agencies had serious problems with artistic activities taking place at the venue. The closure came after the staging of 7,500 concerts and functions, 650 public discussions, over 70 book launches, 35 theatre productions, staging of 150 international touring acts and countless new local acts and collaborations. The Book CafÃ© was awarded the Prince Claus Award for opening democratic space and giving censored artists a vibrant platform for free artistic expression performances in a country suffering from decades of political and economic upheavals, repressive laws, stringent censorship and a lack of cultural , sound and vibrant infrastructure.
· In March 2011, Bulawayo police banned Rooftop Promotions from staging a play entitled 'Rituals' which focuses on political violence. 'Rituals', directed and produced by Daves Guzha is a story told in panoramic fashion chronicling how community initiated cultural solutions meet with serious challenges which either prevent their conclusive enactment or achievement of the desired results.
· In March 2011 the police also banned a Zimrights pictorial production entitled 'Reflections'. Refelections is a collection of photos of innocent Zimbabwean people who were brutalized by political violence during the period 2007 €”2008. 'Reflections' exhibited in Masvingo, Harare, Mutare, South Africa and Switzerland was meant to provide a visual reminder to the people of Zimbabwe of the continued need to remain dedicated to supporting democratic reforms and transitional justice in Zimbabwe. ZimRights has been struggling to exhibit the photos in other parts of the country with the police saying the images have a potential of inciting violence.
· In December, 2010 Harare police arrested protest musician Farai Munro popularly known as Cde Fatso for filming a music video along a railway track. The charge was that he used NRZ property without authority. The arrest was not the first time that Cde Fatso and his group has had a run in with the law. Cde Fatso has in the past been harassed by the police and state security agents for his politically loaded music.
· On the 26th of March 2010, Owen Maseko was arrested for showcasing an exhibition of paintings, focusing primarily on the Gukurahundi era, while it also challenged Zanu PF's political oppression in recent years. Maseko was charged with violating Section 33 of the Criminal Law and Codification Act, a law that punishes anyone who "insults or undermines the authority of the President €. He was also charged with Section 42 (2): "Causing offence to persons of a particular race, religion, etc. € On the 27th of August 2010 a special government order was issued formally prohibiting the exhibition. Up to now the State is still contemplating bringing fresh horrendous charges against Maseko, while all this happening, his art is still banned from any form of exhibition.
All the above mentioned cases are a clear illustration of what happens when 'art' and 'freedom of expression' come together to challenge Zanu PF's 'Patriotic History' project. It reveals how the rule of law in Zimbabwe has been crafted and subverted to support the Zanu PF party's ideological priorities. It is a point of intense concern that these bizarre censorship instructions continue to be issued under the Inclusive Government which is guided by the Global Political Agreement (GPA) signed on this day, 15 September, in 2008 which states that principals shall uphold the importance of the right to 'Freedom of Expression and Communication' Article XIX.
Incidences of protest art repression pose a worrying trend. Arrests of protest artists by the overzealous and evidently partisan Zimbabwe Republic Police must be strongly condemned. It is very disturbing that Zimbabwean police continue to be used as agents and tools of an oppressive state, thereby turning a blind eye on actual instigators of crime and depriving the innocent from the enjoyment of their freedoms. Zimbabweans and indeed artists have a right to express themselves in an artistic way they find be-fitting the pain and suppression they suffer under the auspices of ZANU PF.
It is our hope that as a result of the media reforms that Minister of Information and Publicity, Webster Shamu is supposed to institute, critical art forms will find their unhindered way into the media particularly state media. Freedom of expression is a cornerstone of any democracy and it must be encouraged and promoted among artists and ordinary citizens at large.