Music, theatre, visual arts, photography, and cinema. No art form escapes the
censorship of Robert Mugabe's regime, which has been coming down hard on artists
for two years now. Times are unstable, with artists having to live with censorship,
a lack of funds which have wasted away due to the economic crisis and some of
them fleeing the country. For those who chose to stay the price is high, so much
so that many have found release using the only form of protest which the regime
is not able to repress – graffiti.
. In spite of Zimbabwe's government, theatre had never been a delicate issue
for dissident artists – from 2006 up until today censorship towards music and
theatre has, for the most part, become systematic. In recent weeks however, theatre
director Cont Mhlanga has been put under observation because the authorities did
not appreciate his satires. In one of his recent plays, ‘The Good President’,
the mise en scene
condemns Mugabe's regime for its brutality and repressive tactics. The play
was then interrupted by police in Bulwayo, the second largest city in the country.
"The police came into the theatre and gave the audience five minutes to leave
the room. Whoever stayed was arrested for taking part in a non-authorised meeting",
stated Mhlanga to PeaceReporter. Now all of his works need to obtain approval
from the censorship committee. Meanwhile, other artists are certainly not receiving
any better treatment.
. Video photographer Berry Bickle, musician Thomas Mapfumo, sculpturer Tapfama
Gutsa to name a few… as each year goes by, the list of Zimbabwean artists who
emigrate abroad grows, and not just because of censorship. "Artists have to take
lethal steps to find materials, given the lack of foreign currency, and galleries
reduce exhibitions to nothing", PeaceReporter heard from disgruntled Raphael Chikukwa,
curator of international events such as the Visions of Zimbabwe exhibition produced
in 2004 at the Manchester Art Gallery. "At present, many promising artists emigrate
to Namibia, Botswana and South Africa, because here there's no future".
It goes without saying that television and radio slots are reserved for artists
who sing the regime’s praises, who are enriched by taking part in government-sponsored
events. A lack of private companies in the media sector also obstructs dissidents
from making themselves heard.
. Thus artists and the people are confined to finding new ways of expressing
their protest. The main way to let off steam has become graffiti, drawn during
the night in the streets of the capital, Harare. A phenomenon defined as 'the
voice without a voice' by poet Chirikure Chirikure, given that the government
is not able to stop it, even when police numbers are doubled. Some reckless artists
are driven to drawing graffiti on walls just tens of metres away from President
Mugabe's home, writing slogans which praise the opposition. The contrast with
the past is more obvious, because up until independence was achieved in 1980,
art was used by black protesters to strengthen the spirit of the masses. Many
artists such as Mapfumo, previously supported by Mugabe, are now paying the price;
"now that the struggle for independence is over, the same tools which were used
by colonialists to repress art are being adopted by the regime", complains Chikukwa.
"Yet artists are the voices of society, and one cannot stop them from reflecting
freely what they see".
. Despite all the difficulties, Mugabe is nevertheless unable to put a muzzle
on the people. Projects such as Rooftop Promotions, a theatre and cinema production
house aiming to increase the level of political and social awareness of society,
are encountering a huge success. Proof of this is seen when works directed by
Mhlanga are completely sold out; he decided not to give in to censorship. "My
task is to show people the conditions in which we live, whilst at the same time
making them understand that no condition, not even the most uncertain, is forever.
As artists it is our duty to speak for the people. Because the highest voice of
non-violent protest in this world is art".