On 3 September 2012, Radio COP reported that Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) have petitioned the High Court seeking to overturn a ban of the theatre play ‘No Voice No Choice’.
The play ‘No Voice No Choice’ – a production by two community theatre groups, Edzai Isu Theatre Arts Project and Zvido Zvevanhu Arts Ensemble, written by prominent theatre practitioner Tafadzwa Muzondo – is no longer to be experienced in Zimbabwe, according to the country’s Board of Censors. In a letter written to Muzondo, signed by the Censorship Board chairman H. J. Malaba, the play is recommended to be banned and prohibited in Zimbabwe because it is “too direct” and “inciteful and against the spirit of national healing”.
Muzondo, on the other hand, sees ‘No Voice No Choice’ as an informative play that tells stories promoting peace and healing.
Scheduled for arts festival
The play has already been performed around the region, in South Africa and Zambia, and was nominated for a National Arts Merit Award (NAMA) award in 2011. ‘No Voice No Choice’ was expected to run at several Zimbabwean theatre halls and community centres, including at the forthcoming Intwasa Arts Festival scheduled for Bulawayo in the end of September 2012.
In an urgent chamber application to the High Court, the ZLHR lawyers, Tawanda Zhuwarara and Bellinda Chinowawa, want the court to issue an order interdicting the Board of Censors of Zimbabwe and its functionaries from preventing the staging of the performance at any venue in Zimbabwe and permit Muzondo and his Edzai Isu Theatre Arts Project to perform the play at the Intwasa Arts Festival.
Ban issued by police in Masvingo
In July 2012 the play banned in Masvingo by the police citing security reasons. Chief Superintendent Nyapfuri, the Officer Commanding Zimbabwe Republic Police Masvingo Central District, banned the public performance of the play, but the intervention of ZHLR saved performances in Masvingo Town, Bikita and Zaka. ZLHR successfully turned to the Masvingo Magistrates Courts to issue an order interdicting the police ban on the play.
Numerous theatre plays banned
This is the fourth time in less than two years that ZLHR has had to intervene in defence of freedom of expression and to safeguard artists’ rights in Zimbabwe.
In February 2011, ZLHR fought on behalf of Rooftop Promotions and obtained an interdict from Bulawayo Magistrate Rose Dube barring the police from prohibiting the theatre production group from staging a theatre performance entitled ‘Rituals’.
This was after the police through Chief Superintendent R. N Masina of Bulawayo Central Police Station had banned the public performance of ‘Rituals’. The play was stopped and the cast locked in police cells on two different nights.
In September 2011, ZLHR also successfully challenged the police ban of the Gwanda-based Jahunda Community Theatre play entitled ‘1983, the years before and after’, a play on the past disturbances seeking to establish true National Healing, true peace and true reconciliation.
Nhimbe Trust – August 2012:
Alert!No Voice, No Choice Barred From Chimanimani Arts Festival Stage
Nhimbe is an arts education organization and a leader in cultural policy research, training and advocacy and in the promotion and defence of freedom of creative expression. Since 2008, we have been monitoring, issuing alerts and campaigning on violations of freedom of creative expression.
Radio VOP – 3 September 2012:
Lawyers Challenge Censorship Board Over Banned Play
Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human rights (ZLHR) have petitioned the High Court seeking to overturn a ban imposed by the Board of Censors on a theatre play aimed at national healing and peace building. By Professor Matodzi.
Radio VOP – 31 August 2012:
Censorship Board Bans Theatre Play
Zimbabwe’s Censorship Board has banned a theatre play aimed at building peace in the country.
AllAfrica / The Standard – 20 August 2012:
Zimbabwe: Cheap Politicking Chokes Theatrey
By Godwin Muzari.
The Zimbabwean – 24 October 2012:
Ban discourages script-writer
The Zimbabwean – 14 November 2012:
Banned artist bemoans absence of appeal mechanism
Zimbabwe: Censorship of visual artist
Accused of being “too direct”, Owen Maseko’s exhibition ‘Sibathontisele’ was banned and the artist detained for several days in a police cell in 2010.
In March 2010, Bulawayo visual artist Owen Maseko put up a solo exhibition at the National Art Gallery in Bulawayo and called it ‘Sibathontisele’. This means ‘Let’s drip on them’ in IsiNdebele. The title of the exhibition is an allusion to blood and the form of torture using burning plastic that was experienced by many Ndebele people during the Gukuhundi atrocities of the 1980s. In what was officially classified as genocide in September 2010, tens of thousands of people had been killed, injured, tortured, humiliated and homes were destroyed.
The idea with the exhibition was to push the agenda of national healing, reconciliation and integration into public spaces. However, it was misinterpreted by authorities as an arts project intent on undermining peace and state security by sowing seeds of division. It was immediately banned and the artist detained for several days in a police cell.
Just like ‘No Voice No Choice’, Owen Maseko’s exhibition was accused of lacking subtleness and being “too direct.”
Maseko was placed on remand on charges of ‘undermining the authority of or insulting the President and causing offence to persons of a particular race or religion’, which has a maximum prison sentence of 12 months. However, the State wanted to extend the charges to that of breaching Section 31 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act by allegedly publishing or communicating falsehoods prejudicial to the State, which has a maximum prison sentence of 20 years. The case has since been referred to the Supreme Court.
In an interview with the Observer following his arrest, Maseko said: “I do not have political motivations, just inspiration. If I express a burning issue inside myself, I am healing myself and I am helping others to be healed, because I am bringing into the open a topic that people are afraid to talk about.”
In response to this courageous exhibition, Maseko was awarded a Human Rights and Democracy Award in Harare in October 2010.
Arterial Network – 20 April 2012:
Has Art Become A Victim Of Shrinking Democratic Spaces In Zimbabwe?
By Raisedon Baya
Examples of trends of harassment of protest artists
According to Crisis Coalition, the censorship of protest art by the Zimbabwean government is used to expose what happens to artists when their work dares to challenge Zanu PF’s so-called patriotic history. This follows the recent Board of Censorship’s ban of the play No Voice No Choice alleging that it was “inciting and against the spirit of national healing and reconciliation”.
Below are some examples of trends of harassment of protest artists, registered by Crisis Coalition:
• In November 2011, the Book Café was shut down after state security agencies had serious problems with artistic activities taking place at the venue.
• In March 2011, Bulawayo police banned Rooftop Promotions from staging a play entitled ‘Rituals’, which focuses on political violence. ‘Rituals’, directed and produced by Daves Guzha, is a story told in panoramic fashion chronicling how community-initiated cultural solutions meet with serious challenges which either prevent their conclusive enactment or achievement of the desired results.
• In March 2011, the police banned a Zimrights pictorial production entitled Reflections. Reflections is a collection of photos of innocent Zimbabwean people who were brutalised by political violence during the period 2007-2008.
• In December 2010, Harare police arrested protest musician Farai Munro, popularly known as Comrade Fatso for filming a music video along a railway track. Fatso, has in the past been harassed by the police and state security agents for his politically-loaded music.
• On 26 March 2010, Owen Maseko was arrested for showcasing an exhibition of paintings, focusing primarily on the Gukurahundi era, while it also challenged Zanu PF’s political oppression in recent years.
“The above mentioned cases reveal how the rule of law in Zimbabwe has been crafted and subverted to support Zanu PF party’s ideological priorities,” writes Crisis Coalition in Opinion on 9 September 2012: “It is a point of intense concern that these bizarre censorship instructions continue to be issued under the Inclusive government which is guided by the Global Political Agreement (GPA) signed on 15 September 2008 which states that principals shall uphold the importance of the right to ‘Freedom of Expression and Communication” Article XIX.”
Opinion – 9 September 2012:
Censorship of art suffocates dissenting voices