Zimbabwe should abolish the censorship board and other bodies censoring or regulating artistic expressions in order to comply with Zimbabwe’s new constitution. Instead a new classification board should be mandated to issue age recommendations to protect children. This was a recommendation made by arts practitioners, artists, journalists and human rights lawyers at a workshop on artistic freedom, held on 23-24 October 2015 in Harare, Zimbabwe.
By Sipho Moyoyo – Freemuse correspondent, Harare
The workshop participants agreed “to confront and fight laws that are infringing on their artistic freedom in Zimbabwe.” They pointed out that the current Censorship Act of 1967 has no bearing in the new Constitution of 2013.
The participants also urged the Zimbabwean government to submit the 2005 UNESCO Convention quadrennial report on cultural diversity, which they said was long overdue.
The artsfreedom workshop was initiated and supported by Freemuse and organised locally by Nhimbe Trust and Arterial Network. During two days the participants were given an analysis of the Zimbabwean legal framework, saw findings of censorship practices in Zimbabwe, and learned about Arterial’s report on arts freedom in Africa and Freemuse’s work and artistic freedom of expression globally.
The participants qualified the findings for the forthcoming Universal Periodic Review (UPR) that will be submitted to the United Nations Human Rights Council as part of the UN system’s official mechanism for reviewing all member states’ human rights records in cycles of four and a half year.
Zimbabwe comes up for ‘examination’ of its human rights records in 2016. A central part of the UPR process is to include qualified inputs from civil society.
The communique released after the two day workshops recommends that in accordance with international standards and respecting the 2013 Constitution, Zimbabwe should abolish prior-censorship bodies or systems where they exist and use subsequent imposition of liability only when necessary under article 19 (3) and 20 of ICCPR.
It says the effects of art censorship or unjustified restrictions of the right to freedom of artistic expression and creativity deprive artists of means of expression and livelihood and generate important cultural, social and economic losses to society.
The arts practitioners and artists noted that the local state and security agencies have been abusing existing laws to stop or blacklist productions they thought were politically incorrect.
Playwright and actor Sylvanos Mudzvova contributing to the discussions said from his past experience it is safer to perform in the cities than in rural areas as most of the plays that brew trouble when performed in rural or mining areas would have been staged in the cities and towns without any problems.
Mudzvova said in 2011 when they toured rural farming communities with the play Rituals in the farming area of Cashel Valley, they were told that the message they were bringing to the people about peace was not welcome. This was in spite that the play had run several series in the capital city of Harare without any incident.
Mudzvova and other actors were arrested while on the company of an official from the National Arts Council of Zimbabwe (NACZ) who was with them on the tour.
“The police did not even know what the NACZ was, nor which laws they were supposed to arrest us for the performance. Initially they had charged us under the Public Order Security Act (POSA) but later changed it to say we were making too much noise that was disturbing the peace in the surrounding environs. A member of parliament also ordered the confiscation of our CD and DVD which had been distributed free of charge to communities. The legislator took our material and got us arrested.”
“Censorship board just wants fees”
Mudzvova said he clears his productions every time with the Censorship Board: “I have decided to apply for censorship certificates for my plays because what these guys just want are for you to pay a fee. You pay and they stamp your script. But while out there showcasing they might revoke your licence if they receive any complaints. They then realise they made a mistake as they would not have gone through the script.”
Comrade Fatso, one of Zimbabwe’s pioneering artists and a Freemuse board member, concurred saying artists were free to do what they want as long as you pay clearance fees to the censorship board.
One of his projects, ‘Zambezi News’, has since 2011 performed without any hindrance.
“The other thing is while the board might clear you, there might be need to be cleared by several other departments,” he told the group.
He said once they brought a puppet from South Africa to interview a government minister but they were surprised when the minister asked if they had a clearance certificate.
“He told us immigration were inquiring if we had had clearance before the interview. We told the minister that we could not clear the puppet because it was not an artist.”
Against this background, participants at the Harare workshop suggested that instead of censorship boards, classification bodies should be established. In many countries such bodies exist to protect children from contents that are easily accessible by them – in particular movies, music and video games.
The group agreed to publish the following recommendation:
“The organisers of the workshop wish to establish a constructive dialogue with the Parliament, the Government and relevant ministries and hope that the recommendations can be further qualified in dialogue with relevant authorities. The organisers suggest that a classification body should be easy accessible, transparent and accountable.”
» Read the media release:
Censorship board should be abolished (PDF)
» Listen to or watch Comrade Fatso in action:
Photo on top of this page: Although the workshop discussed serious censorship issues, the absurdities of Zimbabwean censorship practices also called upon many laughs. Photos by the author.