Zimbabwe: Singing for the opposition is a crime



Singing for the opposition is a crime

Five days imprisonment and a possible custodial sentence has not deterred two Zimbabwean protest singers from continuing to sell their new album, but they have had to go into hiding.

By Sebastian Nyamhangambiri
reporting for Freemuse from Harare

Happison Handson Mabika, 32, and Patience Takaona, 28, were granted bail on 27 March 2008 after spending five days in jail for allegedly singing songs that the state does not want. They spent the five days in cells at Harare Central Police Station, and their return in freedom took only the intervention of their lawyer Charles Kwaramba of Mbidzo Muchadehama & Makoni Legal Practitioners who fought for their release. They were granted bail and released after paying 50 million Zimbabwe dollars (about 0.70 US dollars) bail per person.

A Harare magistrate will decide on 7 May 2008 on whether the duo will have to face trial for allegedly singing songs that are ‘too sensitive, and insulting’ president Robert Mugabe.

They had been arrested while distributing copies of the compact discs of their eight-track revolutionary musical album entitled ‘Nhare Mbozha’ [‘Cellphone’] for resale at a train station in Harare. The album has songs that are attacking the status quo and agitate for change and calls for good governance.

They call themselves Dread Reckless, Sister Fearless & the Rainbow Warriors – where Happison Mabika is ‘Dread Reckless’, Patience Takaona is ‘Sister Fearless’, and the ‘Rainbow Warriors’ are freelance musicians and singers which they hire from time to time when performing. Happison says he is ‘reckless’ to Mugabe and Patience says she is ‘fearless’ to speaking against the ‘evils in Zimbabwe’.

‘Insulting the president’
The two of their songs which are deemed criminal are ‘Saddam Waenda’ [‘Saddam Is Gone’] and ‘Hondo Yechimurenga’ [‘Liberation War’],

“They could have been there [in prison] even up to now. The state is just being high-handed on such dissenting voices, even where it is not necessary,” said Charles Kwaramba to Freemuse. “Why would one face a charge for just singing?”

According to the police charge sheet, the police arrested Mabika and Takaona on the belief that ‘Saddam Waenda’  and ‘Hondo Yechimurenga’ were insulting the president Mugabe.

As part of the bail conditions, magistrate Archie Wochiunga prohibited the duo from visiting the premises of Gramma Records company – the place where the album was secretly recorded.

“I do not know why they (the state lawyers) denied us the right to go there. Maybe they want to kill the message before it gets to the people but that will not happen,” vowed Happison Mabika.

The duo has since contracted some people who are secretly making copies of the album and they are battling to meet demand.

Up to two years in jail
According to the Attorney-General’s Office (Zimbabwe chief government lawyer), the lyrics in ‘Saddam Waenda’ were tantamount to undermining authority or insulting Mugabe in contravention of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act.

Kwaramba, their lawyer, is aware that the dreadlocked duo can face up to two years in jail if convicted.

“There is an option of a fine or community service but the courts can be harsh or even funny and impose a custodial sentence – after all it is to the discretion of the magistrate to decide on the sentence,” said Kwaramba.

The police charge sheet states that a part of the song ‘Saddam Waenda’ is ‘too sensitive’. The sensitive part of the lyrics is quoted:

    “Saddam akaenda sare Bob. Wakatanga kunyora mutemo yekusungirira vana veZimbabwe. Mushure mekunge Tsvangirai amutsa vanhu, Mugabe akavhunduka.”

    [Saddam is gone, Bob (Mugabe) is next. After opposition leader Morgen Tsvangirai enlightened the people, Mugabe was shocked and enacted oppressive media laws like Public Order and Security Act (POSA) and Access to Information Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA).]

In ‘Hondo Yechimurenga’ [‘Liberation struggle’], the state is of the belief that Mugabe is being held responsible for masterminding the catastrophic Gukurahundi war of the 1980s that killed several civilians in Matabeleland.

    “You planned Gukurahundi [genocide on Ndebele tribe in the 1980s] alone, why? We need to know the number of causalities. You hate Tony Blair. What did he do to you?”

It is also alleged that the song portrays Mugabe as the one who engineered the deaths of nationalists like army commander Josiah Tongogara, the then minister of youth and gender affairs Border Gezi, vocal war veterans Bulawayo chairperson Cain Nkala, and defence minister Moven Mahachi.

In hiding
Mabika and Takaona are now living in hiding pending the outcome of their case.

“We know they want to victimise us for performing for the MDC [the opposition Movement for Democratic Change] but we will not be cowed down. Our second album ‘Tiriparwendo naMorgan’ [‘We are travelling with Morgan Tsvangirai’ – the MDC leader] is now starting to hit the street and will be launched soon,” said Patience Takaona.

Despite having been advised by friends and relatives to stop selling or singing, Handson Mabika said he will not:

“There is nothing wrong with spreading the message. Let the people refuse to accept the message if it is wrong. I have been told that as long as I do not sing for [president Mugabe’s party] Zanu PF they will not play my songs on radio. I do not care. They have not done that for sure but people – whom I sing for are happy and they are playing it in their cars, at home and even in some public places.”

The group last performed at an opposition MDC rally and thrilled about 50,000 people who had thronged the Glamis Stadium in Harare on 23 March 2008. People kept on asking for more.

“We sing what is happening. We do not exaggerate. That is why they like our music,” said Patience Takaona. “I see no reason why we should let them down. I know people have gotten in trouble because of or songs and those of other people who can stand keeping quiet when we are suffering.”

The group was also arrested earlier this year – it happened in February as they were on their way to sing at an opposition campaign rally. At that time, their homes were searched, and 600 copies of their first CD album were destroyed by police who also seized their music instruments.

In the prison they “were beaten from dawn to dusk. We were made to sing those songs we were made to march, we were made to explain what we meant on every song,” Mabika told PRI’s The World.

In the run-up to the 29 March election, Tabitha Khumalo, the MDC’s parliamentary candidate for Bulawayo East (now member of parliament), was picked up two times by the police for playing ‘Nhare Mbozha’ at a rally held in a stadium, because of claims that the song insulted Robert Mugabe.

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 later on taken the police to the courts for the unlawful interference with their work of art. The day after the election, several peoplea are reported to have been arrested because they were playing the group’s music.

Hostile environment
Zimbabwe remains an unsafe place for protest artists. They are either assaulted, arrested, threatened to succumb by going into exile or stopping to sing. Thomas Mapfumo is now based in the United States after he sang several songs condemning the status quo. He sang ‘Corruption in the Society’ and ‘Mabvebve’ [‘The country is now like torn pieces of cloth’].

Raymond Majongwe had to record his album in neighbouring South Africa after recording companies in Zimbabwe refused fearing reprisals from the regime. Protest musicians are being denied airplay by the state broadcaster. And in the run up to the March 2008 election several concerts by musicians to create awareness to citizens suffered huddles from the police and security forces who wanted to ban them.

Photos: by the author

The new album by Dread Reckless and Sister Fearless: ‘Tiriparwendo naMorgan’

Takaona and Makipa: “We want our message to reach all audiences”


Related reading on the internet

TheWorld.org – 7 April 2008:

‘Rainbow Warriors’  – includes a radio report

‘The World’ is produced by BBC World Service, PRI and WGBH Boston.

Click to listen to the MP3 audio file
Listen to the radio report from Zimbabwe – including the music and interview with the artists

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