Why was the launch of the Mthwakazi Arts Festival in Bulawayo blocked? How does censorship mechanisms work inside the state radio in Zimbabwe?
Zimbabwean radio journalist Zenzele Ndebele set out to find the answers. He interviewed the manager of Radio Dialogue, Kholiwe Nyoni, lawyer Kucaca Phulu, poet Albert Nyathi, state radio presenter Rudo Moyo and former state radio presenter Sam Mkhithika, among others
By Zenzele Ndebele, Freemuse’s stringer reporting from Bulawayo
Listen to the radio programme:
Part 1 Introduction. [5:10] Kholiwe Nyoni, manager of Radio Dialogue
Part 7 Sam Mkhithika, former state radio presenter [8:19]
Censorship mechanisms in Zimbabwe
All art is propaganda as George Orwell put it across. In a country where there is a serious censorship and political patronage of the media music is expected to take over as a media for the people to express themselves. However it is not so in Zimbabwe a country that has also descended on artistic freedom in the music industry for various reasons ranging from political, tribal and moral fiber
By Zenzele Ndebele
The latest onslaught on music was on the Mthwakazi Arts Festival – a brainchild of the community radio initiative Radio Dialogue. The festival this year ran for the fifth consecutive time. It runs round about the same time as the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair aiming to celebrate the culture of the people of Matabeleland and Zimbabwe as a whole through music, dance and fashion. This time, on 26 April 2007, the official launch was blocked on the eleventh hour at the behest of the police, although the organisers had clearance from them (the police), National Arts Council as well as the censorship board. “We had done all the necessary ground work for the festival to take off avoiding a run in with the police but still we were told not to hold the launch because the president was in town,” said an official from the organising committee.
Kholiwe Nyoni, the spokesman for the festival, said: “The launch was primarily to honour sponsors and other people who have made it possible for the festival to come this far. One of the people who was to get an award is a member of the National Arts Council of Zimbabwe Nicholas Moyo. We ended up begging the police to go on with the festival although the launch was stopped.” The police attempted to thwart the whole festival claiming that their reason for blocking the grand launch of the festival was because they were short stuffed. They attributed their being ill stuffed on the fact that the president Robert Mugabe was in Bulawayo for the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair and having the launch paused a security scare because all their efforts were directed at the head of state. “It was simply a case of being under stuffed during the trade fair period as all our departments were put on high alert,” said one superintendent.
Clearance was not required
What is incredible is that the police tasked the organisers to get a police clearance, which according to the Public Order and Security Act of 2002 is irrelevant in this discourse. The law actually puts it in black and white that entertainment functions do not require to get a POSA clearance. The current Minister of Information and Publicity, Dr Skanyiso Ndlovu, is on record for saying, “Only political gatherings require clearance from the police.” Then why did the police suggest for a clearance certificate? “Whenever the president is in town there is a security scare and we cannot take chances. If it means being extra careful to the extent of asking for a clearance certificate then that is our job,” said Shepard Sibanda the spokesman for the Zimbabwe Republic Police in Bulawayo.
A legal practitioner, Mr Kucaca Phula, begged to differ with the decision taken by the law enforcing agents: “In terms of POSA when it comes to bona fide authentic music shows such as Mthwakazi Arts Festival, a thing that has been running for the past five years, there is no need for a clearance certificate. Only a draconian measure was taken against the organisers because some people view the term Mthwakazi with political innuendos and connotations that is a wrong judgement. The credentials for the festival are not different from those of the Harare International Festival – celebrating Zimbabwean culture through arts and they take place round about the same season. If it was because the president was in town why don’t they do the same in Harare during HIFA because the president resides in Harare?”
Canceling the launch was a serious catastrophe on the festival because at the launch is where stakeholders meet and discuss notes on the development of the festival’s future and it is where business related to the festival gets to surface. “Only the launch was blocked but the festival went on as planned, although we were frustrated and demoralized. We could have met somewhere in private but we did not think of that because we are a transparent organisation that does not have a hidden agenda what so ever,” said Kholiwe Nyoni. “We view this as some form of censorship on our part because the presence of the head of state in our town meant that we were to shelve the launch of the festival. So when the president left town we were allowed to continue with the festival although we begged for that. The festival then proceeded for the next four days,” Kholiwe Nyoni emphasized.
Attempts to stop DJ Cleo
This was not the first time for the festival to be frustrated as last year South African Cleopas Monyepao (DJ Cleo) was hunted by the Central Intelligence Organisation who wanted to make it a point that he did not perform at the event. The argument was that DJ Cleo had made silly jokes about Mugabe, remember making jokes about Hitler in Germany was a crime and so they attempted to employ this on the South African DJ. According to a Zimbabwe Newspapers editor who refused to be named, “We were told to ignore the festival where DJ Cleo was to feature because the ministry believed that the DJ had no respect for Robert Mugabe.”
An entertainment reporter who has since left the state controlled media, Japhet Dube also added that, “I had presented a story on the DJ Cleo show in my diary for the conference and it just suffered a natural death.” So the festival went on and there was no mention of it on the regional papers The Chronicle and Sunday News, which are state controlled, the security agents failed to raise a concrete case against DJ Cleo and it was reported in the Zimbabwe Independent that DJ Cleo went past the heavy eye of the Central Intelligence Organisation
Hosia Chipanga: anonymous death threats
The Zimbabwe government is in the fashion of disturbing live shows that it feels may pose a threat to what they think people still have for it – credibility. Last year the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Union’s workers day celebrations were dealt with a bad blow when Hosiah Chipanga declined to perform at the last minute after receiving death threats from the Central Intelligence Organisation. Chipanga said, “The anonymous callers would ask me if I still valued my life. I then decided against proceeding with the performance for my own personal security,” indicating that despite the threats he will continue to sing about the many social, economic and political problems. “I preach my gospel through music. Human threats will not deter me and I will continue to express myself through music in order to help Zimbabwe,” he added.
Later on Chipanga was also found at loggerheads with the state security agents when they warned him from singing his “unbecoming lyrics” at a gala in the Midlands to honour fallen heroes. Such behavior has led to him being ignored for national events, radio airplay and artistic recognition. The ZCTU is a breeding ground for political activism, it is where the Movement For Democratic Chance surfaced from and it is an organisation that looks at the plight of the proletariat (working class).
Oliver Mutukudzi’s sound engineer: apprehended
There was also the case of a sound engineer who worked for Oliver Mutukudzi who was apprehended after a live performance where it is said that he directed a stage light on Mugabe’s portrait when Tuku was tuning out his banned ‘Bvuma’ a song that has been interpreted as directed to Mugabe.
Artists such as Mutukudzi and Mapfumo command a huge following and their lyrical composition has always been under the spotlight. The government tried to pin down Mutukudzi for his song ‘Bvuma’ and he gave an excuse that he did not direct the song at the head of state. Actually it referred to his relationship with his children. Mutukudzi has been on record for making it clear that he is not a ZANU PF supporter after a series of botched attempts to align him and his music with the ruling party.
Thomas Mapfumo: exiled
Thus censorship in Zimbabwe is mostly on music that has the potential to cause civil unrest and undermines the government with political connotations. When an artist gets frustrated in his native country he chooses to go into exile where he can practice freedom of expression. Names such as Kenyean Ngugi WaThiong a novelist comes into mind. Thomas Mapfumo and Lovemore Majaivana did the same. Both went to the United States of America a country with one of the best constitutions that gives a comprehensive approach to freedom of expression with its bill of rights.
Thomas Mapfumo is viewed by some as a national hero for his combative style of music, which includes singing theme songs for the revolution. Mapfumo, who hailed the new political dispensation in 1980, sang songs praising the new leaders but soon turned his wrath on them after realizing they were falling into greed and corruption. In 1989, he sang ‘Corruption’, which decried ‘rottenness,’ and the following year, ‘Jojo’, warning people not to be used by politicians.
In the late 1990s Mapfumo focused his attention on corrupt leaders in Zimbabwe whom he felt had let down the electorate, and his songs were taken off the air. This was especially so for those from his 1999-album, ‘Chimurenga Explosion’, most notably ‘Disaster’, which was prophetic about the current situation in Zimbabwe and the launch of the violent land redistribution program. After a series of threats against him and the banning of his music, Mapfumo and his family went into voluntary exile in the United States. He took his family to America fearing victimisation for his stance as a musician.
Lovemore Majaivana: exiled
A similar case is that of Lovemore Majaivana who has vowed not to come back to his motherland under the current government. His music has mysteriously been taken off air but lately pressure groups find solace in his music for instance the song ‘Leliize alilamali’ (‘This country has no money’) was used by the Women Of Zimbabwe Arise when they took to the streets in protest against the way the country’s economy was being run. No matter how much music gets censored it will circulate under ground reaching people. It is their only hope to a free world of expression.
“The views of the censorship board are accommodated in the policy of the various stations under Zimbabwe Broadcasting Holdings. There is also the concern of the Minister of Information as well as the Media Information Commission weighing in on censorship issues. I remember during my time at ZBC a number of songs were banned mainly Thomas Mapfumo’s album Chimurenga rebel, Andy Brown, Frank Hodobo and Robson Banda all for different reasons,” he said. On political censorship he highlighted that, “When it comes to politics music that was done by ZIPRA choirs was very limited because prior to the Unity Accord music from that political sect was destroyed hence meaning that after the accord there was less exposure of this music to the public. ZIPRA music was viewed as unhealthy for the politics of the day. I actually fired a DJ for playing such music during my time, I was just doing my job.
Leonard Zhakata was also banned not on paperwork but practically as all DJs were told not to play certain songs from his album Hodho making it difficult to produce evidence that the music was banned,” he said. The censorship board is a government department under the ministry of home affair. It is housed at Magombe building. I could not get the information on how many people work there but the people who work at the censorship board are civil servants whose salaries are paid by the government.
Albert Nyathi’s comment
It is clear that music censorship mostly weighs in on politically incorrect music. An internationally acclaimed Zimbabwean artist, Albert Nyathi, who confessed at being a victim of censorship said, “I have realized that some of my songs are not played on air. Only about three songs manage to get airplay the rest are ignored because honestly I know they are not good to the current socio-political situation. Its not that my songs attack any one in power but they only talk about the plight of the poor. People actually get shocked that they never knew some of my songs-it is because the songs are not played on air,” he said.
National radio: precaution
A current employee at one national radio station said: “Songs that are profane, those that are tribal, ethnical and provocative to any community in Zimbabwe in any offensive way are not played because we are a public broadcaster. We also advise some music groups that have names that are potentially offensive to change them before we play their music.”
Profane music is music that is sexually explicit or obscene such as Andy Brown’s ‘Hande babe’ because the song was said to be degrading women and social morality. The language issue is the main reason why gangster rap from the likes of Tupac and Snoop Dogg do not get air play on mainstream radio unless they have a clean version of the song. There is also the case of an urban grooves kwaito act that had their name as Street Niggers. The young artistes were told to change the “Nigger” part of their name if they wanted they music to continue getting airplay. There is also the issue of music that has tribal implications such as Robson Banda’s ‘Tisakanganwe Chinyakare’. The song promoted tribalism, hence it was banned.
A currently employed DJ at Power FM confessed that their play lists are checked on a three-month basis and when the radio executives see a song that they feel is politically incorrect or socially immoral they strike it off air as in the case of an album by Maskiri entitled ‘Blue Movie’ and if such songs somehow find their way back into play lists the DJ is then summoned to a hearing. Censorship is guided by company policy that states clearly that music played should not be offensive to the ruling party and this aids DJs and artistes to have self-censorship.
Censorship Control Act of 1967
This is the case with the Zimbabwean musical scene and censorship. The wholesome of the issue is that there is music censorship in Zimbabwe and songs are censored basing on various reasons stipulated by the censorship board with the aid of the Censorship and Entertainment Control Act of 1967 revised in 1996 and what the public broadcaster deems unfit for public consumption. Sources at the state broadcaster however declined to give a list of the currently banned songs sighting fear and ethical principles that govern their jobs. However, the list below gives examples of some songs that had been said to be banned, as well as those that have officially been declared banned:
• ‘Warrior’ – by Leonard Zhakata
• ‘Mirira Nguva’ – by Leonard Zhakata
• ‘Struggle’ – by Leonard Zhakata
• ‘Tisakangane Chinyakare’ (album) – by Robson Banda
• ‘Chimurenga Rebel’ (album) – by Thomas Mapfumo
• ‘Dreams and Secrets’ – by Thomas Mapfumo
• ‘Umoya Wami’ – by Lovemore Majaivana
• ‘Bvuma’ – by Oliver Mutukudzi The lyrics of this song talk about an old man who does not what to give up. “Bvuma wasakara…”
• ‘Lelilizwe alilamali’ – by Lovemore Majaivana The song talks about Zimbabwe as a country with no money
• ‘Dialogue’ – by Collin Sibanda This is a poem which encourages political leaders to seat down and talk. It also denounces violence perpetrated by state.)
• ‘Keep your England’ – by The Oppressed Masses In 2002 president Robert Mugabe gave a famous speech where he addressed a United Nation Summit on sustainable development in South Africa. He said: “Blair, keep your England. I will keep my Zimbabwe.” The song says “Zimbabwe is a city of queues. People are queuing for everything and this is not what they fought for…” It also talks about police brutality and calls the situation in Zimbabwe “Mickey Mouse freedom”.
• ‘Change’ – by Hugh Masekela The song is about Africa’s leaders who do not want to step down. Hugh Masekela asks when people like Robert Mugabe will say goodbye. Nelson Mandela gave a good example when he left power.
• ‘Tshisa Mpama’ – by Senyaka The title was a slogan adopted by the main opposition, the Movement for Democratic Change.
• ‘No One’ – by Raymond Majongwe The lyrics say that no one will victimize people for ever. Even presidents like Kamuzu Band and Mobuto Seseseko who had ruled for decades finally left.
• ‘Dear Mzwakhe Mbuli’ – by Albert Nyathi • ‘Eulogy if a political martyr’ – by Albert Nyathi Both of Albert Nyathi’s songs are praising the late ZAPU leader Joshua Nkomo as one of the few true revolutionaries, and this ridicules the ruling party.
Banned music published in exile
On 8 June 2007, the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition which is based in South Africa launched two protest music albums by Zimbabwean artists: Durban-based Timothy Rukombo and his band, plus another group called Abanqobi Bomhlaba. According to Nixon Nyikadzino, a press officer in the coalition, the albums are used to encourage activists based in Zimbabwe to “soldier on in the struggle just like what used to happen during the liberation war in the country”. The crisis coalition use their regional networks to distribute the CDs. They also rely on private and independent radio stations broadcasting to Zimbabwe to get airplay for the protest music. Several community radio stations operating in the Limpopo area in South Africa will also get the CDs as thousands of Zimbabweans are said to be living there. Asked by SW Radio Africa if the coalition can distribute the CDs in Zimbabwe, Nixon Nyikadzino replied that this type of music was very popular despite the fact that state broadcaster ZBC banned such songs on their radio stations.
On 3 June 2007, Zimbabwe-born singer song writer Thabani and The Thabani band who are based in London, UK, released their song ‘Right 2 Demonstrate’. It is an emotive song which demands the right for people to speak their minds in a free democratic society. wezimbabwe.org myspace.com/thabani
About the author and radio producer
This non-aired radio production as well as the accompanying article and photographs were produced in May-June 2007 by Zenzele Ndebele, 29, who is based in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. He has a B.A. in Media Studies and is presently pursuing a Master in Media Studies. He is part time production manager at the community radio Radio Dialogue, and he also teaches broadcasting practices at the National University of Science and Technology.
Zenzele Ndebele participated in a workshop organised by Freemuse in March 2007 which aimed at upgrading the knowledge of African journalists who already work in the field of human rights to also include music censorship issues.