Education, Arts, Sport and Culture minister David Coltart has equated the post-independence disturbances in Matabeleland that left an estimated 20 000 people dead, to genocide.
Coltart said it was a shame that the country had failed dismally to deal with past disturbances by setting up a truth, justice and reconciliation process as had happened elsewhere on the continent.
Speaking at the 13th annual Lozikeyi Lecture at the Bulawayo National Art Gallery on Friday, Coltart described Zimbabwe as a nation with a bloody history littered with years of serious human rights violations, violence, abuse of power, racial and ethnic discrimination.
Queen Lozikeyi was one of the senior wives of King Lobengula, the second and last monarch of the Ndebele people who ruled until 1894.
“The first 30 years post-independence have been marked by serious and consistent human rights abuses, including a politicide, if not genocide, which occurred in the mid-1980s in the south-west of the country,” said Coltart.
“In other words, Zimbabwe has had a lot of psychological and physical trauma to deal with as a nation and art has a critical role to play as we delve beyond subjective interpretations of history and begin to realise the truth of our past.”
He said 2010 had been a traumatic year for the National Art Gallery in Bulawayo because it has been the focus of a clash between certain arms of government and art.
The exhibition by Owen Maseko entitled Sibathontisele, focusing on the Gukurahundi mass killings era, was earlier this year banned and the artist still faces serious charges in court.
At the same time the sculpture Looking Into The Future, by Stanley Hadebe, of a nude man, was also banned.
“In short, that ‘vision of reality’, that ‘realisation of truth’ that both these works of art constitute is now being subjected to scrutiny and challenge by certain elements of government and in the process I fear that an attempt to grapple with our past in a palatable manner is being derailed, with potentially fearsome consequences,” said Coltart.
“In other words, because art is not actual reality it can usher reality in and help us deal with it in a moderated or graduated way – which in turn helps us individually and nationally to grapple with our past and current failings and successes in a palatable manner. “I personally feel that it is a shame that we have never been able to deal with the reality of what happened in our nation in the 1970s (during the liberation struggle) through a truth, justice and reconciliation process.”
Coltart said the main challenge for the country was that it had to deal with the past.
“Are we prepared to learn from it or are we determined to bury it and run the risk of repeating the shocking mistakes of the past? Whether we like it or not, the past did happen and we need gentle means to deal with it,” he said.
“The tragedy of simply banning politically controversial art is that we then never get the opportunity to debate it and learn from it.”
He described the banning of the pieces of arts as not only “ridiculous”, but also a violation of fundamental constitutional rights.