Govt steps up arts censorship

Zimbabwean artists were startled recently after a senior government representative told them the state would subject artworks to even further censorship.

“You cannot wish censorship away, because it is impossible. It will not be allowed that you work without censorship. Every country will censor its citizenry, including Zimbabwe,” the principal director for Arts and Culture in the Ministry of Education, Sport, Arts and Culture, Paul Damasane, told the artists.

Theatrical plays and music, which Zimbabwe’s authorities deem too critical for their liking, are banned and artists have in the past been arrested, intimidated or physically abused by the police.

As a result of draconian state censorship and other regulations, stakeholders in the sector, including artists themselves, government, civic society and arts administrators met to iron out issues and draft a National Arts and Culture Policy review document to protect artistic interests.

High profile artists attended including Cont Mhlanga, Tsitsi Dangarembgwa, Daves Guzha, Walter Mparutsa, Musaemura Zimunya, Oliver Mtukudzi, Stephen Chifunyise, Albert Nyathi and Raisedon Baya.

The government director pressed on: “Where there is a possibility of conflict between an arts product and the state, there shall be control.”

The statement provoked the ire of artists who sought to dress down the government representative and described him as arrogant and insensitive. The artists asked why the government representative was present at the conference in the first place.

“We don’t need you (government) here at this stage (the preliminary policy review). You want the government to influence us?” the artists said.

Stephen Chifunyise, a former permanent secretary in government and radical playwright, said censorship had dogged the arts sector.

“Censorship lies at three levels where artists submit scripts to the authorities, apply to the police for clearance and then deal with the individual politicians in the communities who are directing the police on the ground. Art must be freed from undue censorship,” Chifunyise said.

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