Zimbabwe: Concert blocked in Chiredzi

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Zimbabwe:
Concert blocked in Chiredzi

The local police had given permission to a group of young musicians to make a ‘voter education concert’ on 12 December 2007, but all of a sudden the Central Intelligence Organisation wanted to block the event.

By Sebastian Nyamhangambiri, reporting for Freemuse from Chiredzi


The stage was set, the audience was ready, waiting patiently

In Chiredzi – a small town about 400 kilometres south-east of Harare – an audience of about 5,000 people bravely waited for hours. It was such a rare concert event in this sugar growing region. Just when the concert had been about to begin, the owners of Tsvovani Stadium – the Chiredzi Rural Council – told the fans that the CIO, the Central Intelligence Organisation, had ordered the event cancelled. Then hours went by while the event organisers tried to ensure that the concert could go ahead.

There were grumblings from the crowd as musicians – who included dancing sensation Sandra Ndebele, Sam Mtukudzi, urban groovers Snipper and Nox and dancing queens Mambokadzi – milled around the set stage. But council officials remained unmoved, insisting the show had to be stopped in compliance with orders from the CIO, who operate directly under President Robert Mugabe’s office.



While discussions were rolling, musicians began performing

As required by security law – the Public Order and Security Act – the organisers, a civic organisation named Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, had cleared the musical concert with the town council. The purpose of the concert was to disseminate information on people’s civil rights to vote. In Zimbabwe, normally, the local authorities would co-operate on security matters with the government’s “spy agency”. But in Chiredzi something had apparently gone wrong.


Political pressure

“There had been political pressure from the CIO who were mad that the council had approved the use of the venue by the artists for civic education,” a council official told journalists on the sidelines of the concert. The CIO agents told the police to disperse the artists and the audience but the police declined to do so.

Unconfirmed reports said the CIO even wanted police to arrest the musicians, but again the police refused.

As the police, CIO and council officials were shuttling behind the scenes, the restless artists disregarded the order to stop and all of a sudden started performing – much to the annoyance of the sorrowful Gestapo-style spy agents.

The regime in Zimbabwe is very paranoid of new ideas of anything it is not controlling. The CIO apparently thought that there was a hidden political (anti-regime) agenda with the event. Moreso, anything that has support of civic organisations like Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition (the name tells it all!) is deemed by the CIO to be for regime change.

Since the incident on 12 December 2007, however, the CIO, which normally does not discuss its work with the media, seems to have changed its policy on such voter education campaigns. In the following month, there have been voter education musical shows – ‘Rock da Vote’ concerts – in Harare, Chitungwiza, Mutoko and Bulawayo without any disturbances from the CIO.

Musicians intimidated
In an interview in January 2008, Okay Machisa, the manager of the ‘Rock da Vote’ concerts, said the CIO still harass him for the Chiredzi event but also said he was determined to continue.

“We defied the CIO action and went ahead to play (in Chiredzi). We wanted to see how they were going to do after the concert had been cleared,” said Machisa to Freemuse.

“We know they have even tried to intimidate the musicians but they have remained resolute. In fact we have another concert in the end of January in Norton. Citizens have a right to know, and musicians have that crucial role to play without being hindered.”

The Harare security agency has in the past banned at least a dozen theatrical performances they perceived as too critical of Mugabe’s regime. Some artists have been detained without trial, and some of these artists have lateron taken the police to the courts for the unlawful interference with their work of art.

Photos: by the author



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