Zimbabwe: Censorship does not silence music

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Zimbabwe:
Censorship does not silence music

Many songs of the Zimbabwean music star Leonard Zhakata have been blacklisted by the state broadcaster. This has not silenced him, though, as a spokesman for tolerance and peace. During the past months he has toured the country with his band, performing in rural and marginalised communities.

INTERVIEW – by Maxwell Sibanda
reporting for Freemuse from Zimbabwe

Apart from putting together free music concerts in April and May 2008, Leonard Zhakata has been holding music workshops for aspiring musicians as part of a programme meant to scout for talented youths in remote villages. His tour was however not ‘smooth sailing’ in certain locations because of political interference from what he termed as ‘overzealous’ ZANU PF party youths and officials.

Leonard Zhakata told Freemuse that he experienced a lot of intimidation on his tour, and he had had to cancel some of his concert shows because of politicians who said they “were not sure of the musicians’ motive”. They had to approach the village chiefs first in order to get permission to perform, and at some venues a list of songs was handed to him which he was not allowed to perform.

Leonard Zhakata: “It has been quite an experience working with rural communities for the past months as we travelled throughout the country. The pre-election and its aftermath has not made our work easier. The challenges are huge.”

“At times we were ordered not to play certain songs which local authorities thought were politically incorrect. But overall I am happy that we managed to penetrate a number of remote areas.”

Nation building
Most of the songs Leonard Zhakata performed have to do with issues of nation building and living together in peace.

“Music can send strong messages to the people. Messages of hope. The people of Zimbabwe deserve better, and as musicians we are encouraging them to fight on as there is light at the end of the tunnel. There has to be peace in rural villages,” said Leonard Zhakata.

The rural communities in Zimbabwe have been affected by the 29 March post-election violence that has seen people murdered and thousands displaced. Leonard Zhakata said the violence has created hatred among peace loving villagers who have turned against each other:

“These are senseless attacks on innocent people. Political parties have created this creature called violence in which brothers and sisters turn against each other.”

“As artists we have no power to stop this violence, but through songs we have been advising people against this. Political leaders have to sit down and talk.”

Intolerance and fear
Zhakata has released a number of songs against political violence while others centred on the need for tolerance. He believes Zimbabwe can pull through these dark days and be a model of peace.

“We have been in the rural communities and seen for ourselves the level of intolerance. Fear has gripped wholesome rural communities and it is sad. People are afraid to confide in anyone, even their closest friends or relatives.”

There are people in rural communities who appreciate his music while others think it is too political.

“One would think that marginalised communities do not have access to our music, but that is not the case at all. I was surprised that a lot of people out there know most of my songs which have been blacklisted by the state broadcaster. Although these songs are not played on radio, the people can actually sing them very well.”

“I was impressed that people are well informed about what is happening around them, politically,” said the musician.

Zhakata’s aim is to arm young musicians in rural communities with the necessary skills as unemployment hovers around 85 per cent. He believes that youngsters are more exposed to acts of violence because they have nothing to do and are easily recruited to do dirty jobs because of money.

“The only way out for these young people is to equip them with self help skills that can take away their focus from hate campaigns and gang wars,” said Leonard Zhakata.

‘Music has become my weapon’
Leonard Zhakata and his band have so far covered three provinces. Their first phase of the programme ends this month and they hope to find new sponsors for the remaining seven provinces. The sponsors of the first phase who helped equip four bands with guitars and other equipment. Zhakata acknowledges that a lot of talent was going untapped in rural communities.

With a potentially violent presidential run-off set for the end of next month, Zhakata is not afraid to take his message to rural villages. He said:

“I know the risks involved but I will soldier on. We have been there in the villages already and we know what to expect. The band knows the risks involved and they are determined, like all the other Zimbabweans to see an end to all this intolerance of diverse views.”

Next month Zhakata turns 40 and he believes he has seen it all. He
says: “I was a war collaborator during the 1970s struggle and still has its bitter memories. Today I celebrate 40 years as fighter, fighting for justice and freedom of my people through music. Music has become my weapon, it is my contribution to the struggle of Zimbabwe.”

Taking music to rural communities
Since the political stalemate in Zimbabwe, the political pressure group The Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition (CZC) went on a countrywide campaign in rural districts using music to raise awareness among villagers on issues related to voting and elections.

CZC is a coalition of human and civic rights groups, churches, women’s groups, the labour and the student movements. Coalition’s coordinator Jacob Mafume said they wanted to use the arts to educate voters about their rights. As reported in other published Freemuse articles, the campaign has not been smooth sailing as participating musicians were confronted by state officials over the campaigns.

Rural constituencies had traditionally voted for Mugabe and ZANU PF but a worsening economic crisis and food shortages gripping Zimbabwe had the rural vote going to the opposition for the first time since independence in 1980. ZANU PF has accused organisations such as CZC of working with the opposition. Mafume denied this: “We are not canvassing for support for any political party,” he said.

For years ZANU PF had attributed support from rural voters to its “pro-poor policies” and a long association with the villagers who backed its guerrillas during the 1970s war of Zimbabwe’s independence. The use of propaganda songs continually aired through the state broadcaster had also benefited ZANU PF as radio is the only form of communication readily available to rural communities.




Leonard Zhakata


Interview with Leonard Zhakata from 2005: 
‘Blacklisted – my personal experience’

About the artist
It was the song ‘Mugove’ which propelled Leonard Zhakata to stardom in Zimbabwe in 1994. With its direct message to the auhorities (see lyrics below) it became a smash hit, and the album with the same title sold more than 120,000 copies. Zhakata’s follow-up album, ‘Nzombe Huru’, sold more than 130,000 copies in 1996.

In May 2003, his album ‘Hodho’ was banned by the state broadcaster ZBC after only a few days on the airwaves.

Leonard Zhakata writes and performs songs mainly in his native Shona tongue, and among Zimbabweans he is also famous for songs such as ‘Hupenyu Mutoro’ and ‘Batai Mazwi’.

Zhakata biography on Zimbabwe Music Guide


Click to read biography



Song lyrics

    ‘Mugove’ (‘Fair share’)
    From the album ‘Mugove’

    Leaders, please give me an opportunity
    Those who got a chance to get to the top
    Who were lucky enough to get to the top
    Who got the chance to get to the top
    They consider this opportunity as cleverness
    Now they oppress those below them
    They spit on those below them
    Beating their chests and exalting themselves

    No, they are doing wrong
    If you were born like everyone else
    If you came from your mum’s womb like everyone
    It is clear
    Don’t lie, don’t fool yourself
    Taking yourself to be invincible

    Those you oppress
    Those you tread upon
    They pray to the heavens
    No-one knows the answer
    Or the day it will come

    There is a share reserved for me
    Please give me my share
    While I am still alive

    The rich are oppressing me
    I don’t have anything
    We are oppressed and stepped upon
    We are being ill-treated
    Being made to labor

    My mother wants to thank me
    She has forget how to praise my totem
    What shall I give her
    So she can thank me
    Thank me through my totem
    My totem

    © Leonard Zhakata

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