THE appointment of the new Board of Censors by Home Affairs minister Ignatius Chombo is a disaster for artistic freedom. The purpose of the current board is to silence artistes and whip them into line. That is why a hard nut historian, Aeneas Chigwedere, was brought back from political oblivion to head such a critical board. The inclusion of Bona Mugabe, President Robert Mugabe’s daughter, further highlights the “intentions” of this board. Also seated on this controversial Board of Censors is police spokesperson, Charity Charamba.
BY SILVANOS MUDZVOVA
In 1967, the Rhodesian government crafted the Censorship and Entertainment Act to stifle dissenting black voices like Simon Muzenda (the poet) and Solomon Mutsvairo (the novelist). Mutsvairo wrote the first Shona novel, Feso, in 1963, which was a satire about white rule in Rhodesia. 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. When he was arrested for reciting the poem, the Rhodesian government realised there was no specific law that dealt with African natives in terms of censorship.
A presidential decree was used to ban Feso before the crafting of the Censorship and Entertainment Act.
In 1979, Chimurenga musician Thomas Mapfumo released the song Hokoyo (Watch out), which led to his arrest and imprisonment. Although Mapfumo argues that he was arrested without any charge, records at the National Archives of Zimbabwe indicate he was charged under the Censorship and Entertainment Act of 1967. The law, however, was not effective as Hokoyo was still played during discos and on radio stations such as the Voice of Mozambique which were beyond the Rhodesian government’s control.
The Censorship and Entertainment Act contains some very controversial sections which would make life very difficult not only for artistes 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 programmes in Zimbabwe on television, at movie houses or on video, DVD or blue ray etc. Therefore legally, ZBC-TV and DStv, are guilty of breaching this law.
The law also states that all radio stations and DJs in bars are supposed to send their music for approval 24 hours before they play it, something that is practically impossible. In 1967, there was only one radio station and a few bars, but now with more than eight radio stations directly linked to the State and more than a thousand bars in Harare alone, it is nightmarish to implement.
I asked the secretary of the board, Isaac Chiranganyika, to show me at least one application done by ZBC since it started operating in 1980 or from Star FM and ZiFM and he could not. This shows the coming-in of the new board is meant to silence artistes who are raising their voices against human rights violations, corruption and the poor governance by the Mugabe regime.
This Act is so outdated and out of sync with technological advancements. 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, Edzaiisu by Amakhosi Productions and Final Push by Vhitori Trust.
I was taken to court under the Act in 2008, found guilty and fined Z$500 000 (equivalent to US$1) after a three-month trial. I have it on good authority that the Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (Galz) was also taken to court under this Act and, most recently, the incarcerated cleric Robert Martin Gumbura’s wives were charged under this law for possession of pornographic material.
Zimbabwe does not need such a law which violates provisions of the African Charter on Human Rights. Article 9 of the charter states (i) every individual shall have the right to receive information and (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. The 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.
Artistes 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 artiste.
Silvanos Mudzvova is an arts activist and currently an Artist Protection Fund Fellow at the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom. He is the director of Vhitori Trust, a theatre, film and arts consultancy in Zimbabwe. He can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org.