Zimbabwe: No end to music censorship in Zimbabwe



No end to music censorship in Zimbabwe

Musicians Hosiah Chipanga and Raymond Majongwe, and their lawyers, speak about their recent experiences with music censorship in the “new” Zimbabwe under a coalition government.

INTERVIEWS – by Sebastian Nyamhangambiri

reporting for Freemuse from Harare

        Album: pulled off air

In Zimbabwe, it might be seven months after the formation of a coalition government which many hoped for but freedom of speech remains an endangered specie as censorship of music that ’contains provocative political statements’ remains in place.

Judging from the letter that lawyers of protest musician Hosiah Chipanga received last week from the state-owned Zimbabwe Broadcasting Holdings (ZBH), one is right to be tempted to conclude that censorship is there to stay in the Southern African nation.

”As a public broadcaster, it is our duty to promote harmony in society. We will accord airplay to those tracks (songs) which we found to be in order,” this was in a letter from the ZBH company secretary Norman Mahori, on 27 August 2009 to Gutu and Chikowero Attorneys, the lawyers of Chipanga.

This correspondent is in possession of the letter which shows that it was delivered to Chipanga’s lawyers Gutu and Chikowero Attorneys on Monday 31 August 2009.

Legal suite
In July 2009, Panganayi Hare of the Gutu and Chikowero Attorneys threatened a legal suite if ZBH did not lift the ban of ‘Hero Shoko’ album by Chipanga.

The album — laden with political messages that attack President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party — hit the airwaves for a little while before being pulled off air of ZBH’s radio stations in May 2009.

After that ban — which the ZBH vehemently denied — Panganayi Hare wrote to the ZBH saying since it was a public broadcaster with monopoly of airwaves in Zimbabwe had an obligation to play Chipanga’s music. Failure of which singer Chipanga would sue the ZBH for denying him airplay.

”Your conduct [denying Chipanga airplay] constitutes an infringement of our client’s right to freedom of expression as enshrined in the (Zimbabwean) constitution. This is an issue of grave concern to our client, seeing that the lack of publicity on his latest work impedes its marketability and availability to his fans. It also poses a threat to his planned public performances as the public is not in the know about his latest work. (…) Should we not hear from you (…) we have instructions to seek legal redress,” Panganayi Hare wrote to ZBH in July 2009.

It seems now the ZBH has begged down. Just a bit, though.

Mahori’s letter in fact openly admitted that the ZBH would continue to censor music in Zimbabwe if the broadcaster deemed it not palatable to the society.

”After listening to the six tracks on ’Hero Shoko’ we are of the view that some of the tracks contain provocative political statements which we feel is out of place especially during this time of the infancy of the inclusive government,” wrote Mahori.

But since writing the letter to Chipanga’s lawyers claiming that it had rescinded on its decision to ban completely his album, the ZBH has not played any of the songs from ’Hero Shoko.’

One of the songs ‘Baba Nkomo’ (referring to Father Nkomo, the late Zimbabwe’s vice president Joshua), the slim musician questions the criteria used not to accord the late politicians and nationalists in Zimbabwe Ndabaningi Sithole, James Chikerema and former president Canaan Banana national hero statuses when they died, yet they were at the fore during the liberation struggle. It could be this song which contains provocative political statements.

Another one with such unpalatable message to ZBH could be ‘Nhunzi Nechironda’ (Fly and a wound). In this song the controversial singer attacks President Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party. Chipanga questions the time spent by a person chasing away flies rather than treating the wound.

It goes, “Takapedza nguva tichidzinga nhunzi chironda chichikura ikezvino hachicharapiki.” Loosely translated it means: “Zanu-PF spent unnecessary time on petty issues rather than making an overhaul of its leadership (wound).”

Everyone is suffering
Chipanga welcomed the development from ZBH but was cautious:

“I hope they live to their word. At first they denied that there was an official ban of my music saying the presenters or audience were not interested. They can say the same now.”

Commenting on the censorship of music in Zimbabwe Chipanga said:

“Everything that happens can be commented on by musicians. As an artist I have an obligation to introduce a subject to the society and then let the audience debate it and judge me. Not journalists or the broadcaster. As an artist I sing what I see. The society must listen if it is benefit. Praise singing does not develop the society. Look at where we are. Everyone is suffering.”

Panganayi Hare, the lawyer, was cautious, too, regarding the letter from ZBH.

“We suppose, and this is purely an assumption, that they will start playing it [Chipanga’s album] soon. They may not have the legal basis to stop playing it because freedom of expression is enshrined in our constitution….,” said Panganayi Hare.

“His [Chipanga’s] music must be played. They might not legal basis not to play his music, after all. For as long as they can play some of his songs, we believe Chipanga has made history and he has challenged an institution like ZBH. Once he starts receiving airplay his visibility will improve.”

Protest singers face criminal charges
Chipanga is not the first artist in Zimbabwe to suffer censorship. All protest musicians are either facing criminal charges or their music is not played on ZHB’s four radio stations. Examples include Leonard Zhakata and Zimbabwe’s legend Thomas Mapfumo. Last year, protest singer Raymond Majongwe had to record his music in neighbouring South Africa after state authorities allegedly frightened recording companies in Zimbabwe. Majongwe said on the censorship in Zimbabwe even after the coalition government;s formation would take time to go.

“The situation has not improved because there are people who are making decisions whose terms of reference are generally agreed upon…” said Majongwe. He said his latest album ‘Xenophobia’, the first to be played on ZBH because it ‘skirted all sensitive current political situations.’

“I am disappointed with the broadcasters in this country… Media laws in this country need to be changed. This must be agreed upon by all the people who consume or feed into it. As long it is people who are moderating the media for their own political expedience and benefit, the die is cast: those people who are being deemed not politically correct will not be allowed to vent out their own political thinking [even under the coalition government]” said the musician.

As if to confirm that, in August 2009, a Zimbabwe lawmaker from Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s party, Stewart Garadhi, was arrested for playing music allegedly denigrating President Mugabe.

Many had hoped that after Mugabe formed a coalition government with former opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, the attack on musicians or people listening to ’anti-Mugabe’ songs would end.
How wrong they were.
Chipanga says such thinking when Zimbabwean musician would be allowed to sing on anything would only come in future. Maybe in a decade from now.

“Judging from what the ZBC has done to my music, I think thinking of a censorship-free Zimbabwe might be in 10 years time,” said the vocal musician. “So it seems new names have come into the government but the ideas or the thinking is still there same. You can even think we have some of our part of the country and reasoning in colonial Zimbabwe.”

What would probably be a testimony to that would be singer Mapfumo, now living in exile in the United States, is possibly Zimbabwe’s biggest and longing serving protest musician. The colonial government deposed in 1980 banned his music when he sang supporting the liberation struggle in the 1970s. The liberation movement led by Mugabe turned government banned his music after he started questioning ruinous government policies. His album ‘Rise Up’ despite selling fast in music shops, is not played on ZBC radio stations. The album urges Zimbabweans to stand up and condemn the policies of Mugabe’s government.

Click to read more about Hosiah Chipanga on freemuse.org
Hosiah Chipanga

Panganayia Hare

Click to listen to interview with lawyer Hare

Click to read more about Raymond Majongwe on freemuse.org
Raymond Majongwe

Click to listen to interview with Majongwe

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