Zimbabwean artist’s long walk to freedom

By Shout-Africa Zimbabwe Correspondent – Social, economical and political situation in Zimbabwe has led to the vulnerability of artist. This article comes at a time when Zimbabweans are calling for media reforms, free and fair elections, justices in human rights protection, gender equity among other issues that affects people on day to day basis, writes Alfred Tembo.

Owen Maseko

Owen Maseko

Rooftop Promotions cast for the award winning play Rituals were once arrested and charged with ‘criminal nuisance’ under the Criminal Law (Codification & Reform) Act. On 17 March 2011, eight member of the theatrical company were detained for two nights. The incident led to an investigation, and the conclusion was that the drama company made noise intentionally and unlawfully causing disturbances in a public place. The tailor made arrest was inflicted by play’s portrayal of election run-off of June 2008.

This episode led David Guzha to deem and regard the then government of President Robert Mugabe as the major stakeholder that is contributing to retrogression of the arts industry in the country. Supremacy of arts industry comes as a threat to national security for exposing serious issues that are burden the development in Zimbabwe. The effort of artistic work to promote national healing and reconciliation are shoved for being said to be a monopolistic political tool employed by to oust Mugabe regime.

Cont Mhlanga

Cont Mhlanga

“The play in question was seen by the Organ on National Healing Reconciliation and Integration and approved by the Board of Censors. It discusses the issue of political violence which the GPA and its principals acknowledge that it has to be addressed,” Guzha was once quoted in a by a national paper.

“We are disturbed but not discouraged or disheartened by this especially considering that we hold a valid censorship certificate from a board which falls under the same ministry (Home Affairs) and theatre is one of the exemptions under POSA,” said Guzha.

Government’s misinterpretations have spread all over the arts industry, disturbing the lives of innocent lives who are aiming at making a living out of their talents. Artist’s entrepreneurship skills are received with mixed feeling by the general minorities who feel threatened by the power of translating actions into pictures. In March 2010 Owen Maseko was arrested for holding an exhibition, which was regarded as humiliation to President Robert Mugabe and charged with violating Section 33 of the Criminal Law and Codification Act.

The exhibition that was held at Bulawayo National Gallery depicted Matabeleland massacres of 1982 to 1987 carried out by Mugabe’s notorious 5th Brigade. Upon news of the exhibition reaching Home Affairs ministry, Maseko was slapped with a charge of violating the Censorship and Entertainment Control Act.

 The 5th Brigade, also referred to as the ‘Gukurahundi’, is renowned for atrocities committed in the Midlands province of Zimbabwe in the 1980s under Robert Mugabe. It is still sensitive to discussing the incident publicly or commemorating the missing in Zimbabwe.

Artist Owen Maseko used his exhibition to break the silence surrounding the conflict and give people a chance to tell their stories. Maseko challenged the horrors of the Gukurahundi through his painting, graffiti and 3D installations.

On 09 December 2010 Farai Munro aka Cde Fasto was arrested and detained by the police for shooting a music video along National railways of Zimbabwe. Cde Fasto is a controversial poet musician who belongs to a new generation of Zimbabweans who has over the years pressed side left right and centre by the state security agents and the police for his politically attached music

His position as a creative and talented artist stood him chance to perform in Sebian city of Novi Sad where he addressed on the political plight of Zimbabwe at the Exit Festival, which is famed to the fall of Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic.

In April last year, Rooftop Promotions went on to take their award winning classical play Rituals on a regional tour to sensitize the international community on the impish life that Zimbabwean are facing in recalling of the past experiences. In Zambia the play which hosted by Mthangatambeta Players’ Circle, was performed at Lusaka Play House, University of Zambia, Quill Club and several other community centers.

The then marketing and sales executive for the theatre company, Tafadzwa Muzondo was quoted saying , “We are targeting religious leaders, human rights or civic groups, journalists, artists, university students, politicians, Zimbabweans resident in Zambia and the general Zambian public”

While Rooftop promotions had to take the long hope into the mild political environment of Zambia, in the eyes of critiques the regional tour was an excuse to escape Mugabe’s fierce hand and any possible squabbles with the state authorities before their appearance which was set for last years’ Harare International Festival of Arts (HIFA) edition.

On the other hand struggle for expression will continue in the Zimbabwean arts industry despite either being pro or anti government. Today in Zimbabwe politicians have dominated every sector that amazes those who welded them to power in the respective prestigious administrative hubs. And with this development artist are turned into puppetry properties as their forms of crafts have been reduced to simple creations with political campaigns and slogans, from some of the art that one can easily be branded Zanu Pf or MDC.

“This is a new movement and it is still difficult to define since the ideas in these works have not been explored fully but it has its own space hence it is still evolving. The energy of objects is their ability to provoke memories and ideas through visual interactions, the essence in my opinion is that all matter has the ability to attract, store and transmit subjective kinds of energies which are recognizable to the cognitive and emotive part of the human mind,” said Hwati a ceramic artist.

Hwati is the 2006 National Arts Merit Awards winner of the Best Mixed media category whose work has been exhibited in Botswana, Zambia and France.

 Cont Mhlanga believes politics is playing a pivotal and instrumental role in degrading arts across all edges sitting that they are working under instructions

“The police are working on instructions from Zanu PF because they think these plays will poison the electorate. It is a poor strategy,” said Mhlanga.

Lamenting on the polarized arts environment in Zimbabwe, Cont Mhlanga feels threatened by the current systems and regularities that has been path crossed by the state authorities.

“Everything I write or produce is banned by the police. One wonders when artistic freedom will finally come to our doorsteps,” said the award-winning writer and director of Amakhosi Arts Community in Bulawayo.