Zimbabwe: Two men arrested for listening to banned music album



Arrested for listening to banned music album

Job of a secret police officer in Zimbabwe now hangs in balance. His offence: he was linked to music that is deemed to be ‘sensitive’ by president Robert Mugabe’s regime

By Sebastian Nyamhangambiri,
reporting for Freemuse from Harare 

Joram Chikomwe, a police detective with the Criminal Investigation Department (CID), was brought to court on 18 June 2008 after spending a couple of days in police custody together with his co-accused, James Matabwa.

The state alleges that an audio compact was found in the car radio of James Matabwa by a person who later alerted the police. The eight-track revolutionary music album entitled ‘Nhare Mbozha’ (‘Cellphone’) by Happison Handson Mabika and Patience Takaona has a song called ‘Saddam Waenda’ (‘Saddam is Gone’) that equates Mugabe to dictators such as the late and former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

According to the state, represented by prosecutor Public Mpofu, the duo as well as Matabwa and Chikomwe must be tried for contravening part of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act for allegedly, ‘communicating false statement prejudicial to the state.’

Alternately, they state is preferring a charge of ‘distributing, displaying or selling any recording that is undesirable’ under the draconian piece of law called The Censorship and Control of Entertainment Act.

Mugabe and the Gukurahundi war
The album has another song called ‘Hondo Yechimurenga’ (‘Liberation struggle’), which the state says it makes people believe that Mugabe must be held responsible for masterminding the catastrophic Gukurahundi war of the 1980s that killed several civilians in Matabeleland

The state says the CD was played in the public and the state witness was ‘alarmed’ by the statements of the songs. After James Matabwa was arrested, he implicated the plain clothes police man Joram Chikomwe.

Released on bail
Matabwa and Chikomwe were granted bail and released after paying 10 billion Zimbabwe dollars (about one US dollar) bail per person with the assistance of their lawyer, Lucky Mawuwa. They will have to come to court again on 30 June 2008 to check if the state is then ready to resume their triela before magistrate Doris Shomwe.

The album ‘Nhare Mbozha’ has proved popular in Zimbabwe and is played mainly in private cars. It has already claimed some scalps. The first being the singers who were arrested in March this year and spent close to a week in police cells before their lawyer came to their rescue and granted bail. They are still not yet off the hook as they are facing charges of singing songs that are ‘too sensitive, and insulting’ Mugabe.

Thabitha Khumalo, an opposition member of parliament, was arrested in Bulawayo in March after playing the album at a rally.

Warrant of arrest
The dread-locked duo – Dread Reckless and Sister Fearless – have since gone into hiding fearing for their lives. A warrant of arrest was issued against them last week after they did not come to court. Their lawyer Charles Kwaramba said his clients had gone into hiding, as they feared for their lives.

Zimbabwe remains an unsafe place for protest artists. They are either assaulted, arrested, threatened to succumb by going into exile or stopping to sing. Veteran revolutionary singer Thomas Mapfumo is now based in the United States after singing 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.

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.

Cover of the banned music album. ‘Nhare Mbozha’

In hiding: Happison and Patience

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Related reading about Dread Reckless and Sister Fearless

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Related reading about Zimbabwe – on freemuse.org