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Devil called Censorship

15 Jun 2017 at 21:01hrs | Views
The appointment of the new Board of Censors by Minister of Home Affairs Ignatius Chombo is a disaster towards artistic freedom. The purpose of the current board is to silence artists and whip them into line. That is why a hard nut historian Chigwedere was bought back from political oblivion to head such a critical board to the life of artists. The inclusion of Bona Mugabe, daughter of dictator Robert Mugabe further highlights "intention" of this board.  Also seated on this highly disputed/controversial Board of Censors is Assistant Police Commissioner, Charity Charamba.

In 1967, the government of Rhodesia wanted to stifle the voice of artists by creating a law that would stop dissent from black Rhodesian artists like Simon Muzenda (the poet) and Solomon Mutsvairo (the novelists) created the Censorship & Entertainment Act of 1967.  Solomon Mutsvairo wrote the first Shona novel in 1963 - Feso which was satire about white rule in Rhodesia. Simon Muzenda who after independence became the vice president of Zimbabwe recited a poem from the same novel which proved to be very popular around Fort Victoria areas of Gutu, Zaka and Bikita where he performed it.  When Simon Muzenda was arrested for reciting the poem, they realised they did not have a specific law that deals with African natives in terms of censorship. They banned Feso the novel by presidential decree and they then created Censorship and Entertainment act of 1967.

The next recorded victim of this law was musician Thomas Mapfumo. In 1979, Mapfumo released the song Hokoyo which means danger/beware or watch out, was arrested and sentenced to prison and released after three months following large protests.  Mapfumo argues that he was arrested without any charge but records at National Archives of Zimbabwe and newspaper cuttings from Rhodesia Herald (now at Herald House library in Harare) indicate he was charged under Censorship & Entertainment Act of 1967.  The law was not effective since its formative years as citizens continued playing Hokoyo records in discos and on radio stations beyond governmental control, such as the Voice of Mozambique.

The Censorship & Entertainment Act contains some very controversial sections which would make life very difficult not only for artists but all Zimbabweans in general.  The law states there should be no films that depict violence - meaning it is illegal to watch action movies or programs in Zimbabwe on TV, at movie houses or on video, DVD or blue ray etc. Therefore legally, ZBC TV and DSTV has been guilty of being in breach of this law from 1980 and 1986 respectively.

The law also states that all radio stations and DJ's in bars are supposed to send their music for approval 24 hours before they play it however, this is practically impossible in this modern day.  In 1967, there was only one radio station and a few bars but now with more than 8 radio stations directly linked to the state and more than a thousand bars in Harare alone, it is nightmarish to implement.  I asked secretary for the board, Chiranganyika to show me at least one application done by ZBC since it started operating in 1980 or from Star FM and Zi FM and he couldn't. This clearly indicates that the coming in of the new board is to silence artists who are raising voice about human rights violations, corruption and poor governance against the Mugabe regime.

This act is so outdated and not moving with technological advancement.  It should be noted that since independence, the act has been used to control political plays and human rights artistic productions.  In theatre the law was used to ban the following plays:  Super Patriots and Morons by Rooftop Promotions , Amakhosi Productions, Edzaiisu, and my Vhitori play Final Push.  I was taken to court under the act in 2008, found guilty and fined 500 000 Zimbabwe dollars which was equivalent to US$1 after a three months trial.  I have it on good authority that GALZ Zimbabwe was also taken to court under this act and most recently the Gumbura wives were charged under this law for possession of p*rn magazines.

Zimbabwe does not need such a law as it is illegal.  Article 9 of the African charter on Human Rights states i) every individual shall have the right to receive information, ii) every individual shall have the right to express and disseminate his opinions within the law.  The new Zimbabwe constitution also guarantees freedom of expression explicitly.  Censorship Act is one of the laws why the new constitution should be aligned immediately.  This act is against all freedoms guaranteed in the new constitution.

My next article will touch on strategies artists can use in order to avoid this repressive law. Artists have been fighting this law since 2000 in Zimbabwe.  The appointment of Bona Mugabe makes fighting this law manageable as it now attracts the attention of every Zimbabwean artist.

Silvanos Mudzvova is an arts activists who has dedicated his life fighting for freedom of expression in Zimbabwe. His Currently an Artist Protection Fund Fellow at University of Manchester. he can be contacted at email: vhitori@gmail.com.

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Source - Silvanos Mudzvova
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