No freedom for artists

by Stephen Tsoroti


Thomas Mapfumo is a key example of how difficult it is for Zimbabwean artists to express themselves.
Thomas Mapfumo is a key example of how difficult it is for Zimbabwean artists to express themselves.

When Thomas Mapfumo released his album, Chimurenga Rebel (2002), He was branded a “terrorist,” and the ZBC was instructed not to air a number of his songs.Most of Mapfumo’s subsequent recordings have been deemed unfit for broadcast, badly damaging the artist’s ability to maintain his audience and earn income from his work.

In 2004, Mapfumo had difficulty booking a studio to record a new album, and once he did, the master recordings mysteriously disappeared, not once but twice, making 2004 the first year in his three-decade career when Mapfumo did not release a new studio recording in Zimbabwe.  Mapfumo is only the most prominent of the many artists whose voices has not been tolerated by some quarters of the political divide.

This scenario has made it difficult for artists to creatively churn out art works that mirror Zimbabwean society today. Speaking at a function recently held to commemorate the International Day Of Tolerance organised by the Zimbabwe-USA Alumni Association, artist Blessing Hungwe said, there must be an atmosphere of tolerance to artistic work in Zimbabwe.

Blessing, who is famous for his theatrical work “Burn Mkwere kwere Burn” said the level of intolerance for creative artistic work was a cause of concern in Zimbabwe, and it has led to marginalisation in society.

“The arts open doors in areas that others may have never thought about and they break so many prejudices inherent in our society. It is important that artistic works are tolerated.” Tafadwa Muzondo, actor and director, concurred with Blessing.

“The artist is the best person to bridge the divide in any society, and when artists are tolerated they can liberate the society from violence, tribalism and racial tendencies. We should accept the differences in our society and tolerate what comes from all minority groups.”

Contributing to the debate, Poet Mbizvo Chirasha called for tolerance in the arts as it closes the gaps of ethnicity and political polarisation.

“We want to see artists engaging more with the national question, particularly around promoting healing, because artists have the leverage. With their art work, artists can play a major role in diffusing tension that is currently being experienced in Zimbabwe. We want artists to be transmitters of peace who, in their collective effort, can help spearhead an effective peace campaign,” he said.

Zimbabwe has been awash with news of artists often not tolerated for their view points. Some have even been arrested on trumped charges.

Among Zimbabwe’s disappearing cultural voices are veteran broadcasters like Eric Knight who fled the country in 2003 after refusing to programme propaganda songs, and Brenda Moyo who was fired that year after she aired two banned songs. In my 2001 interviews, DJ’s spoke passionately about the need for them to be allowed to play what the public wants to hear.

Since then, the government has made it clear that this criterion is a distant second to “political correctness”.  Just to be sure, the government has now raised the 75 percent local content requirement to 100 percent. Songs by the likes of Bob Marley are no longer acceptable.  All of this sends a clear message to young musicians, who now understand that if they want to pursue a career in music, they must not stray from approved messages.

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