PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa’s crackdown on dissenting voices and political opposition, which is a wanton violation of constitutional democracy, hit a record low last weekend when artistes were banned from performing live because of perceived anti-regime messages in their works, in barbaric developments reminiscent of the colonial days of Rhodesia.
Last Saturday, police shut down Winky D’s performance in Chitungwiza, moments after he performed his politically-charged song, Ibotso, which speaks against bad governance and gross corruption.
Police officers, some in plain clothes, surrounded the star before dragging him offstage just after 10PM.
Thousands of fans at Dam View Chikwanha Blue Roof Grill and Bar sang in protest “Siyanayi neGaffa” (leave the star alone) in support of Winky D.
The singer was sharing the stage with several other musicians including Saintfloe and Tocky Vibes, but the state security agents were targeting him.
As a pattern emerged, another musician who has stood up to Mnangagwa’s excesses, Baba Harare, had his live show cancelled barely hours after Winky D was dragged off the stage and stopped from performing.
In May last year, police officers again disrupted Winky D’s live show in Harare during his performance at the Castle Lager Tankard show in Borrowdale. Two people died in a stampede that followed.
The treatment that Winky D received reminded the older generation of musicians like Thomas Mapfumo who received the same treatment during colonial times, highlighting how some of Zimbabwe’s liberators have become oppressors.
The Mnangagwa administration, just like the Mugabe administration before it, has copied Ian Smith’s rule book of oppression.
It is a shame and great betrayal to aspirations of the liberation war heroes whose lives were lost while fighting for a democratic Zimbabwe.
Political analyst Vivid Gweshe told The NewsHawks that wheels are off in Zimbabwe insofar as the trampling of human rights is concerned.
“There is an evident suppression of all voices that are critiquing the current administration’s performance in delivering on its electoral promises and solving the problems facing Zimbabweans.”
“We have seen this muzzling of dissent targeting investigative journalists, activists and artistes. It’s a sign of a paranoid regime not confident of its appeal, acceptance, and endorsement by Zimbabwean society,” he said.
Political analyst Professor Stephen Chan described the situation of gross human rights violations in the country as a hallmark of an arid government.
“Earlier giants of music such as Thomas Mapfumo did not always feel safe in Zimbabwe. What the artistes and musicians do is very important because they bring popular adhesion to the campaign for change. But that makes them targets.”
“Burning books, banning plays, disrupting music — these are the hallmarks of (an) arid government. But there will likely be a lot of suppression and repression leading up to the elections. In those terms it’s probably just now getting started,” he said.
Rashweat Mukundu, a political analyst, also bemoaned the direction that the country is taking under Mnangagwa.
“I think it is an embarrassing incident, or rather embarrassing incidents that is the targeting of Winky D and Baba Harare. It shows the low depth in terms of civility, lack of decency and lack of leadership that the Zimbabwean government has fallen into,” Mukundu said.
“For lack of a better word, we are in the very throes of a failed state in which law and order can easily collapse because what happened to Winky D and to Baba Harare and the opposition indicates leadership, that is very desperate, that is clueless and fearful of its own people.
“We cannot have a whole security apparatus targeting an artiste because of a song that they do not like. That is the lowest of authoritarianism, but equally, the lowest level of failure in leadership. And this is likely to get worse as we get to the elections. But, there are fears that this is now becoming a culture that will even persist even post elections to the extent that we may actually have this government targeting people in the streets for attacks, and targeting its opponents as we have seen in the past with kidnappings, arrests, beatings,” he said.
Mukundu added that Mnangagwa is putting Zimbabwe on acceleration to being a failed state.
Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition also condemned the police action, which it said was a clear violation of the musicians’ freedom of expression and artistic creativity, as enshrined in the constitution of Zimbabwe.
“This banning of musicians by the state is reminiscent of the colonial era and points to clear manoeuvres by the incumbent government to turn Zimbabwe into a one-party state. This quest to control artistic expression can only draw parallels to and reads like an ill-thought imitation of Joseph Goebbels’ quest to cleanse the arts sector in Nazi Germany or the Rhodesian colonial government that banned and persecuted artistes who sang for the liberation of Zimbabwe,” said Obert Masaraure, the spokesperson of the organisation.
“Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right and is clearly laid out in section 61 of our constitution. We call on the Zimbabwe Republic Police to respect this right and to allow artistes, especially musicians, to hold their shows without such blatant political interference.”
Musicians have for long lamented the poor working conditions in the arts industry, a sector which has not been spared the vagaries of the poorly performing economy. Live shows currently stand out as a key source of livelihood for musicians; they are a crucial component of the entertainment industry ecosystem. Banning popular musicians not only threatens livelihoods of the targeted musicians, but those of organisers, venue owners and others both upstream and downstream within the industry. In short, this is a war on the livelihoods of these artistes by the government of Zimbabwe.”
Former Speaker of Parliament and Matobo North MP Lovemore Moyo, said the political environment is very fragile and has the potential to be volatile if left unchecked.
“The biggest challenge is the Zanu PF regime’s desperation to retain power at all cost and by all means necessary.
Also, the Mnangagwa regime has invested heavily in creating politically safe constituencies using money, intimidation and other unorthodox tactics. We note with great concern that the Zanu PF regime is already in the election campaign mode hence political bullying of opposition parties has begun in earnest,” he said.
“Unless the opposition political parties, churches and civil society stand up and speak out against Zanu PF political bullying and violence, it will continue unabated. In other words, Zanu PF has activated its political repression strategies and tools among others using state resources, the military, police and security agencies.”
Moyo pointed out that the sad reality is that nothing has substantially changed politically in terms of electoral reforms as the Zanu PF regime has further tightened their grip on the Zec which has clearly become a proxy for Zanu PF.
“The delimitation exercise and subsequent gerrymandering of the constituencies especially in electoral areas where the opposition is perceived to stronger than Zanu PF. Clearly, the manipulation of the electoral processes by the ruling party has begun and must be checked now if free, fair and transparent elections are to be achieved in the forthcoming 2023 plebiscite,” Moyo said.
“On the other hand, the opposition is conspicuously politically silent and dormant in the face of massive Zanu PF political shenanigans. To make matters worse, the opposition parties represented in Parliament and local governments are quiet on critical election reforms that ought to be effected which were last raised during the GNU period. In essence, there seems to be an opposition political vacuum hence the absence of a coherent opposition political agenda and political activities.”