Zimbabwe Broadcasting Holdings’ Policies on Censorship of Music



Zimbabwe Broadcasting Holdings’ Policies on Censorship of Music

A look at the various censorship policies of Zimbabwe Broadcasting Holdings – which holds a monopoly on broadcasting in the country – and how these policies have affected the musicians in Zimbabwe

By Musavengana Nyasha – former Radio Zimbabwe presenter

Since Zimbabwe Broadcasting Holdings holds a monopoly on broadcasting in the country,  its policies concerning censorship of music have a major impact on the development of the music industry and indeed the nation as a whole. The holding company therefore has a duty to be responsible and progressive in its attitude towards this issue.

Even during the days of the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC), the guiding principles concerning music censorship seem to have stayed the same. Basically, the business units of Radio Zimbabwe, National FM, Power FM, Spot FM and ZTV purport to uphold the nation’s values whilst educating and entertaining the nation. The units are also guided by the commercial aspect of the material they broadcast.

The views of the Censorship Board were always accommodated in the programme content at ZBC.
Another guiding principle that was always impressed upon the presenters and producers at ZBC was that the corporation was said to support the government in power. No one ever seemed to try to explain the difference, if one existed, between the ruling party and the government.
Other factors came into play once in a while like contractual wrangles between ZBC and recording companies for instance. Self censorship is also an important factor.

Here’s a look at the various principles and issues and how they affected the musicians in Zimbabwe.

Censorship Board
There is no clear–cut working relationship with the board, but it is generally accepted that whenever the board deems some music undesirable ZBH, in keeping with the country’s laws, the business units under the company will not play that music. However, it is a fair assumption to say that the producers working fair these units are somewhat ignorant as to specifically which songs were banned by the Censorship Board. Most people do know, however that the Marvin Gaye song, was sold in Zimbabwe as “Healing” and not “Sexual Healing” due to the orders of the board.

Upholding the nation’s values
There have never been any consultations between the various radio and television stations in the country as to what is considered undesirable. Decisions are made by the station’s individual supervisors and CEO’s. Public opinion has also played its part in the banning of music from the airwaves, not to mention the perceived wishes of people in power such as the ministers of information and the President Mugabe himself.

Songs that have been considered undesirable on the local scene have included those from the likes of Andy Brown, Franco Hodobo, and Robson Banda.

Andy Brown’s song “Hande Babe” was said to have popularize a saying that was undesirable and demeaning to women.

Franco Hodobo had a song banned by the conservative Radio Zimbabwe. The song was thought to be too explicit. It talked about French – kissing and passionate fondling.

Robson Banda’s side 2 of the single “Tisakanganwe Chinyakare” was banned because it was said to promote tribalism.

Commercial Content
Whenever a song seemed to contain some material that seemed to promote some product or other, it was banned from the airwaves.

The Real Sounds’ album “7 Miles High” caused some problems because of its inclusion of the name of that particular hotel 7 Miles.

There were even discussions on songs that mentioned certain materials like georgette and viscose. Radio Two was the most strict station when it came to commercial content. Perhaps this was so because it was the most commercial of ZBC’s stations.

Support of the government in power
The issue of supporting the government in power, I am told was a big deal after 1980 when it came to liberation music from former ZAPU choirs. I only started working for ZBC in 1989 so I am told that that most of this music was actually destroyed. After the unity accord frantic efforts were then made to find this material from whoever had managed to keep it.

The coming of the MDC brought a lot of problems to ZBC. During the run–up to elections, parliamentary and presidential, presenters were discouraged from playing music that was critical in any way to the government.

Specific songs were hardly mentioned except for example when Radio Two had become Radio Zimbabwe and Thomas Mapfumo released his “Chimurenga Rebel”. It was said that by giving the album such a title, Thomas was clearly an enemy of the Third Chimurenga so the album could not be played on the station.

Leonard Zhakata’s album “Hodho” was another album that had some songs banned for being anti – government. However after some press coverage of this issue, ZBH chiefs denied ever banning any music and, internally they were said to have started resisting the temptation to ban music but enough hints and comments are made to make it clear to presenters what is expected of them.

Of all the policies and principles guiding the censorship of music and Zimbabwe, it is the political issue that poses the biggest threat to the development of musical expression in the country. Musicians are supposed to mirror society. They are supposed to speak for the voiceless. They have a major role in being the people’s conscience and of reminding politicians of their duty to society.


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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