Zimbabwe: Opposition music denied airtime



Opposition music denied airtime

As Zimbabweans brace for a possible election next year, contesting political parties have turned to music for their campaigns.

By Maxwell Sibanda
reporting for Freemuse from Harare, Zimbabwe

The Zanu (PF) party led by President Robert Mugabe has already started playing its political songs on the national broadcaster Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC), while denying the opposition MDC-T party led by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai aerial time for its music and jingles.

The songs, which are being played on state radio and television every thirty minutes, appear to belittle Tsvangirai and view Mugabe as the supreme leader.

Luke Tamborinyoka, the MDC-T Information Director says his party has since 2008 produced its campaign songs and jingles which have been censored by ZBC. Tamorinyoka said: “We have plenty of music productions that we have to distribute underground. It can be heard in buses, taxis and a number of ordinary citizens have been arrested while playing our music. The state broadcaster does not accept our music productions”.

Nelson Chamisa, MDC-T spokesperson and a cabinet minister said they had better music productions whose lyrics were not abusive but ZBC continued to deny them space on air. “Since the ZBC do not give our music airplay, we have used other multimedia communication devices, like Internet, where the songs can be downloaded from our party website,” Chamisa told the media recently.

The constant repetition of the partisan songs which are an attempt to win back votes in preparation for next year’s elections could backfire as they reminded the electorate of the violence and repression that characterised previous polls, analysts have said.

“Listen carefully”
The Ministry of Media, Information and Publicity sponsored the pro-Zanu (PF) songs which form part of an eight-track compilation by Mbare Chimurenga choir entitled Nyatsoterera, Shona for “listen carefully”. It was produced by gospel musician Amos Mahendere.

The CD has songs which encourage Zimbabweans to rally behind President Mugabe and denounces opposition MDC-T party. One of the songs on the album Ndikusetere team (setting the team) speaks of setting up a team-ostensibly a political team, fielding Mugabe at the top, followed by Vice President Joice Mujuru and vice president John Nkomo in third position. This trio, according to the song, is the team that rules Zimbabwe.

“Who is in charge? It is President Mugabe … Who is the second most powerful? It is Vice President Mujuru … And the third most powerful? It is John Nkomo”, reads part of the jingles. The jingles have an accompanying video clip which shows women in Zanu (PF) regalia gyrating suggestively in great abandon.

Chamisa said the songs poisoned “the current atmosphere and it petrifies us when they celebrate an individual as if he is a representative of God here on earth”. The MDC-T believes the introduction of the songs on ZBC marks the beginning of an election campaign by Zanu PF, which started with the harassment of its supporters during the ongoing constitution-making outreach programmes countrywide.

Analysts believe that playing of the songs was a gross abuse of power, given that ZBC, the sole broadcaster in the country, is funded by the tax payer. Listeners and viewers of the state broadcaster were paying licence fees only to be bombarded with poisonous messages.

Political jingles here to stay
ZBC Chief Executive Happison Muchetetere said the jingles were there to stay. He sarcastically invited the MDC to produce their own material for broadcast, knowing very well the state broadcaster has a standing policy banning all campaign material from the MDC-T. Riled by the one-sided political songs being played on the national broadcaster, Tsvangirai engaged Mugabe recently in an attempt to stop the offending partisan songs.

After the protest by the opposition, the state-owned broadcaster only managed to reduce the amount of time it plays the controversial Zanu (PF) propaganda songs. According to Disc Jockeys working at ZBC the jingles were not banned but that they were only directed to reduce the rate at which they were playing the jingles.

Last month Information and Publicity Minister and Zanu (PF) political commissar Webster Shamu ordered all ZBC four Radio stations’ Disc Jockeys and the two television channels to play the jingles. The minister is alledged to have personally handed the CDs and ordered the DJs to play at least two songs per hour per shift.

Minister Shamu is also the patron of the Zimbabwe Union of Musicians. “We will always come up with new liberation songs as they were part of the struggles. No one will stop Zanu (PF) from coming up with liberation songs”, emphasized Shamu.

While opposition political parties and civic organizations continued to have their music campaign productions denied space on radio and television, Shamu’s ministry is set to release more propaganda songs in Ndebele language as the current songs are only in the Shona language.

Analysts says the continued play of the political songs was against the letter and spirit of the Global Political Agreement (GPA) that spawned the government of national unity. The GPA was signed by the three major political parties, Zanu (PF), MDC-T and the smaller faction of the MDC which is led by Arthur Mutambara on 15 September 2008 as an attempt to resolve the mammoth challenges facing the country. They observed that the continued playing of the songs while denying others the same privilege “underlines the violation of the GPA by Zanu PF and shows the weaknesses of the MDC-T to resist such violations. It defies all calls within the GPA for national healing, for a resolve to end polarisation, divisions, conflict and intolerance within the country.”

Analysts believe unless ZBC is reformed, the country’s sole broadcaster would continue to be an appendage of Zanu (PF) and used to further the revolutionary party’s political interests. Former Information Minister Jonathan Moyo who in his time produced several of these propaganda songs claimed the songs were celebrating “the rich legacy of the liberation struggle”.

Psychological appeal
Political analyst Eldred Masunungure told the media that the songs were a ‘psychological appeal’ by Zanu PF in an attempt to mobilise the masses, re-assure and demonstrate that Mugabe was still in control of national politics. Masunungure said the songs would neither lure more people to Zanu PF nor change the perceptions Zimbabweans already have about the party.

“This is a psychological appeal in the absence of material goods to give away,” said Masunungure. “But the years of symbolic politics are long gone. People want performers and not psychological politics.”

The Media Monitoring Project of Zimbabwe said the return of ZANU-PF propaganda on all stations of the state broadcaster illustrates the extent to which ZBC is a propaganda tool for the former ruling party.

The ZBC responded to critics by posting three rhetorical questions on its website. “Should Cabinet be involved in the day-to-day running of the institution? Are revolutionary songs not part of the history of Zimbabwe and why should anyone be unsettled by the songs? In view of public demand for the songs should the national broadcaster not listen to the voice of its viewers and listeners?” the ZBC website asked.

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Luke Tamborinyoka

Amos Mahendere

Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) logo

Read more

Media Monitoring Project Zimbabwe – week 27 2010:

‘Weekly media review’

Zimbabwe Government Online – 15 July 2010:

‘Mbare choir unleashes 10-track chimurenga album’

Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation – 23 July 2010:

‘Observers hit back at Chimurenga songs critics’

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