Musicians and Censorship in Zimbabwe


12 May 2005

Musicians and Censorship in Zimbabwe

Is enough being done to educate musicians on what the Censorship Board or Act requires? How has this affected members of the Musicians Union of Zimbabwe?

By Albert Nyathi, musician and secretary general of Zimbabwe Union of Musicians

General Introduction

What might we say censorship is, ladies and gentlemen? There are various phrases that I got from various people as I was attempting to come up with a clear cut and solid definition of the term. It was not easy. Some people were even afraid to talk freely, instead preferring to whisper the term CENSORSHIP to me. I discovered people were hesitant to mention the word. It made me curious. The following are two of the many phrases that I got to describe censorship:

– Government backed suppression of information.

– The process of blocking public exposure to undesirable material.

And the Collins Dictionary says of censorship:

– If someone in authority censors a book, play or film, they officially examine and cut out any parts that are considered to be immoral or inappropriate. Censorship is the censoring of books, plays, films or reports, especially by government officials, because they are considered immoral or secret in some way.

In our context as artists our own definition would probably be as follows:

Censorship is the restriction of the creative mind, putting limits to limitlessness. It is an attempt to restrict the mind from exploring the very essence of nature, of the mind, of humanity. It is an attempt to contain the creative minds and control them.

Society has set rules, regulations, and what it considers to be morals and standards to observed and adhered to by the community. If you fail to conform to such expectations, you are considered a misfit in that community. Some may even consider you to be the mad one. Artists have often fallen victim to this kind of scenario. Therefore we start from that point of view. It then depends on who is defining this term. It is like a dog and a cat or like a cat and a rat or like a rat and a nut or indeed a leopard and a dog. Their definitions of what is prey will always differ or their definition of each other always differs.

Introduction to the Censorship and Entertainment Control Act

This Board falls under the Ministry of Home Affairs. It was established on the 1st of December, 1967 in the then Rhodesia. It has been revised and amended a number of times. The current act was revised and amended in 1996.

It is an “ACT to regulate and control the public exhibition of films, the importation, production, dissemination and possession of undesirable or prohibited video and film material, publications, pictures, statues and records and the giving of public entertainment; to regulate theatres and like places of public entertainment in the interests of safety; and to provide for matters incidental to the foregoing”.

The Board is made up of 9 members and they seat at least twice a week. There is currently a small secretariat made up of 3 people. They have provincial committees made up of, among other institutions, the National Arts Council of Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe Republic Police, Ministry of Legal & Parliamentary Affairs, Ministry of Information and Publicity, City Councils, Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare. All these are to a large extent voluntary as the Board has staff and offices only in the capital city. However, the Board, by and large relies very much on the services of the Z.R.P.

The Gist of the Matter

The question I am attempting to answer is whether or not enough is being done to educate musicians on what the censorship Board or Act requires and how all this has affected musicians in the country. I will out rightly say that from my research, most musicians have not been aware of even the existence of such an ACT, let alone its requirements. Only recently a few prominent musicians have received telephone calls from staff at the Censorship Board, including the presenter of this paper, to come around and register with them. That is year 2004. I personally knew the Board to be interested in issues to do with foreign entertainers coming to Zimbabwe including films. I knew the existence of such a Board because I used to work with the National Arts Council of Zimbabwe. Even then, the Board used to worry itself with foreign musicians coming to perform in Zimbabwe.

Most musicians I spoke to, do not have an idea of what this whole thing is all about, except for a few prominent ones like Leonard Zhakata whose music was rumoured to have been banned.

Staff at the Censorship Board indicated to me that they have never banned music by a Zimbabwean. They said that maybe the broadcasters use their discretion not to play some tracks that they feel are “indecent, obscene, offensive or harmful to public moral.” When I talked to a senior broadcaster about this, she said that they “do not force a DJ to play music that he/she is not interested to play.”

There has been rumours claiming that broadcasters have a tendency not to play some tracks from specific artists. Some people claim that tracks like Warrior, Mirira Nguva and Struggle from Leonard Zhakata’s album Hodho, never get airplay. The same goes with Thomas Mapfumo’s Chaputika.

Because the Censorship and Entertainment Control Board has very limited staff or resources, musicians in Zimbabwe have no knowledge on what the requirements are. According to this ACT, every musician, should be registered with the Board and be issued with certificate C. There are three categories in terms of registration. Certificate “A” covers entertainment for all age groups without any restriction. Certificate “B” carries some restrictions. It is more like regulatory signs if you were to liken it to traffic regulations. Certificate C covers bands discos, dance etc.

No performer or musician is allowed to perform without registration. The Board, through the police, can stop a show, arrest the musician or DJ, and confiscate equipment. The artist, in addition to being charged for performing without a licence, the musician or DJ will have to pay storage charges for the music equipment so confiscated.

When I pointed out to the official that, I thought they should not be harsh he said, they have never really been, but that some musicians were being arrogant and rude.

The Registration is current Z$6,000 per annum. However, indications are that fairly soon, the fees are likely to go up and I am not sure about what percentage. Now the question is who is responsible for disseminating information to members of the music fraternity about the requirement of this ACT? Is it the music union/s or is it the Board of Censors? I think that the Board should at least publicly make known its intentions to prosecute unregistered musicians / performers, than merely pouncing on them. Although they usually say something to the effect that ignorance has no defence against the law, some of these laws must be made available and known to the and by the targeted groups of people. I feel that if the Censorship Board intends to prosecute unregistered musicians, they need to go on a vigorous campaign first. The other question is, why do musicians have to register the Censorship and Entertainment Control Board, when in fact they also have to register with the National Arts Council of Zimbabwe. Is there no unnecessary duplication of activity?


In the face of all this, is it not time that musicians come together more purposefully for their own benefits to consolidate the union/s responsible for the welfare of the same musicians. The other question is, is it the duty of music unions to educate their members about the requirements of the ACT?

Musicians have not yet fully been affected by the requirements of the ACT. As I see it, a time will come especially if the Board insists on compulsory registration, that musicians will find it necessary to come together, to consolidate unionism. However, I have to live everyone with question marks than answers as I do not have answers myself.

I Will Not Speak!!!! 
               C. Hove


This article was written in connection with a seminar on Music Censorship in Zimbabwe held on April 28, 2005, at Mannenberg  Jazz Club in Harare


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