Zimbabwe:”RITUALS” outreach team arrested in Manicaland

The Rooftop Promotions ten member team of “Rituals”, which includes 8 artists, 1 driver and 1 tour manager currently on a national tour, was arrested on the late afternoon of the 5th January 2011 and detained at Cashel Valley Police station in a case that is not only disrespectful to the work of artists but also poses  serious challenges to the commitment of the GNU to healing and reconciliation. The team had finished two performances for that day when they were invited to the police station to answer a few questions then later detained for the night without any clear charges. Those arrested constitute arguably Zimbabwe’s crème de la crème and are multi-award winners in their craft. They are Chipo Bizure, popularly known as Eve in Studio 263, Zenzo Nyathi, popularly known as Mzambani on Amakorokoza, Silvanos Mudzvova, Mandla Moyo, Joyce Mpofu and Rutendo Chigudu.  The team spent two nights (Wednesday and Thursday) in the cells and are due to appear in court today (Friday) represented by Cosmos Chibaya instructed by Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights

“It is sadly interesting that our artistic work in promoting national healing and reconciliation, through a play that has been seen by the Organ on National Healing Reconciliation and Integration and has been approved by the Board of Censors, is being thwarted like this when the three principals in the GPA agreed to prioritise national healing and reconciliation in their end of year address to the nation. We are disturbed, and I should hasten to say not discouraged or disheartened, by this behaviour from this particular police station especially considering that we hold a valid censorship certificate from a board which falls under the same ministry (Home Affairs) with the police.  We do not take this irrational act lightly at all because there is nothing funny about sleeping in a police cell for doing your job and what makes the situation even more disturbing is that we notified the police appropriately according to the provisions of POSA and had done 16 performances of the same play in that same province late last year and we were only left with 4 performances hanging in order to fulfil our Manicaland quota”, says Daves Guzha the founder and producer of Rooftop Promotions.

We learnt about the arrest on the 5th January around 5pm and contacted Officer in Charge Inspector Chasara at Cashel Valley Police Station to establish the charges being levelled against the team but he was very  evasive with that information and they went ahead to place them in cells. Only yesterday was it stated through a Sergeant Major, who refused to be known by his name, did they state the team was being judged for criminal nuisance under section 46 and there crime was disturbing peace. Theatre is one of the things exempted under POSA and AIPPA but we still have always notified police of our activities every time and in this case we released a schedule to Mutare Central Police which stated the areas we were covering when we started this tour and out of the 20 scheduled performances for Manicaland, we were left with only four at the time of arresting and detaining our team.

The team’s story, which was supported by people who watched the performance, was that they started off very well, the people loved the show and it was only when the play ended that a police detail who was recording the show confronted them and invited them to the station to answer a few questions to do with the clearance of staging the play. They explained everything but still they were detained and it was only at 6am in the morning that the charge shifted to criminal nuisance whereupon they were asked to pay a fine of $20.00 each which they refused in no uncertain terms and insisted they will wait for the Producer since they believed they had not breached any peace but just did their job to entertain and educate people. When we arrived at Cashel Valley Police station, the said Sergeant Major reiterated the same and said he had instructions from the Officer In Charge to make the team pay the said fine or be detained and taken to court something that we also could not accept since paying a fine technically means admission of guilt to a crime the team insisted they never committed.

“As an artist who believes in the role of theatre in promoting healing and reconciliation, I watched in pain as I saw my colleagues being escorted by gun wielding officers as though they were some high profile criminals and the sad part of it was that they were being locked up for promoting a national agenda. I did not know whether I needed to be disappointed with the particular police officers or the entire law enforcement system of my country as I saw the country’s arts talent being criminalised for doing a play on healing and reconciliation. At a time when the principals and parties in the GPA are pushing for reforms and reconciliation before elections, it is unfortunate that some law enforcing agents cannot wake up and smell the coffee but still want to live in the Zimbabwe that everyone else agrees was not good. ”, says Tafadzwa Muzondo the Marketing & Sales Executive for Rooftop Promotions.

Written by Stephen Chifunyise after going through a research on community approaches to healing and reconciliation, directed and produced by Daves Guzha, featuring Mandla Moyo, Zenzo Nyathi, Joyce Mpofu, Chipo Bizure, Silvanos Mudzvova and Rutendo Chigudu, “Rituals” 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.

“The fact that this production is a result of a community research we commissioned the writer to do in order to come up with a play that encourages community initiated or driven healing and reconciliation processes means it came from the people and we have to take back to them with our artistic input in order to entertain and educate them. The play has had up to 30 performances after its successful premiere at Theatre in the Park last year and also became an instant hit when it was performed at the All Africa Dance for Peace Festival in Nairobi Kenya last year. It has also been hailed as an effective tool of making people begin dialogue and ultimately start their own processes of healing and reconciliation as a community”, says Daves Guzha the Producer of Rooftop Promotions.

In discussions and comments after the play, most audience members expressed the need to have more of such programs in order to demystify the culture of fear and violence in favour of tolerance and unity in communities. One of the audience members actually said: “People like us who have access to newspapers and other information know that there is an Organ on Healing & Reconciliation but we have not seen what it is doing to do its work. There are not coming to us to hear our concerns, our grievances and suggestions so how do they expect to heal us and reconcile us?”

“The Sergeant Major tried to coax us into paying a fine for a crime we never committed and as artists we took a collective stand to let the law take its course because we are not criminals but professionals doing our job. But after our lawyer communicated that decision to him, he started becoming un-cooperative and ordered us to beck in cells. One of the ladies wanted some sanitary pads locked in the car but he refused and we believe they are using our liberty as a bargaining tool to get out clean with unlawfully detaining us. As artists, we encourage people to stand for themselves and their rights so if we cannot stand for ourselves and our rights also then we become “do as I say not as I do prophets. We refuse to be incriminated for doing our work and fending for our families”, says Silvanos Mudzvova, one of the cast members of “Rituals”.

“Rituals” was performed at the initiated Institute for Justice and Reconciliation indaba which brought together participants from Zimbabwe’s all political parties including the Organ on National Healing and Reconciliation.  It is available on DVD.