Gukurahundi artist faces 20 years in jail

gukurahundiOwen Maseko, the artist from Bulawayo whose exhibition was banned by the Board of Censors last Friday and who is now facing criminal charges, has said his work actually promotes national healing, but the government is afraid of the subject matter.

He also revealed that the charges against him had changed and he now faces a longer maximum sentence.

Masekos exhibition showed scenes from the turbulent period known as the Gukurahundi, when troops loyal to Robert Mugabe massacred innocent Zimbabweans. The artist was arrested when it opened in March and the government immediately covered the windows of the gallery.

On Monday the Home Affairs Ministry charged the artist for “obscenity and ethnic bias”, an offense that carries a 12 year maximum sentence. But speaking to SW Radio Africa on Thursday, Maseko said the charges had been amended. He is now being charged for communicating falsehoods in order to incite violence. The new charges carry a 20-year maximum sentence.

Maseko marvelled at the charges, saying: Partly the government is not willing to be open about these atrocities and secondly they have actually blown everything out of proportion. Why would anyone incite violence today in Zimbabwe, especially in relation to the organ of national healing which has been introduced.

Maseko explained that the idea of healing involves being able to talk freely about what happened. He compared this to letting out steam and said it helps prevent the violence that he is being accused of attempting to incite.

Home Affairs co-minister Theresa Makone, whose ministry issued the banning order, surprisingly told SW Radio Africa on Wednesday that she knew nothing about the ban on Masekos work or the fact that he would face charges. But the artist said he was not surprised because the Gukurahundi was one of the most sensitive subjects in Zimbabwes history. But he added that all the directives regarding his case had come from the Home Affairs office in Harare, and so she must have known about it.

Minister Makone promised us that she would talk to the Home Affairs Secretary, Melusi Matshiya, who announced the ban. But on Thursday she emailed us and said Masekos case had been initiated before she joined the ministry. Makone went on to say; I cannot make any meaningful contribution to an issue that was handled before my time.

It is of great concern that the Home Affairs Secretary would announce in a government gazette the decision to ban an exhibition without informing the co-minister of the case. It is even more shocking that the Minister feels that even though she has now been informed, she has to take no action.

Ironically Minister Makone on Tuesday accepted a human rights award on behalf of party President Morgan Tsvangirai and an MDC official at the same ceremony emphasized that it is the government’s duty to protect the rights of all citizens.

Speaking to SW Radio Africa Maseko insisted that he had done nothing wrong, and had simply presented an artistic expression of a part of Zimbabwes history which is not very popular.

I think the Gukurahundi atrocities are Zimbabwean history as much as Chimoyo, as much as Mbuya Nehanda and Kaguvi. The issue is having a common platform for all of us to participate in discussing these issues, said Maseko.

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