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Monday, 15 January, 2001, 13:43 GMT
Zimbabwe's artists under threat
Zimbabwean musician Thomas Mapfumo
Thomas Mapfumo feels safer in the USA
By Joan Brickhill in Harare

The Zimbabwean Government has started clamping down on cultural protests ahead of the 2002 presidential election.

The area of most concern for the state is music since this reaches a mass audience.

Most people think Oliver Mtukudzi's hit song "Wasakara" refers to politicians clinging to power. When songs like this are played, Zimbabwean audiences have taken to chanting opposition slogans and waving red cards, indicating it is time for Mugabe to go.

I don't want to die for comedy. I thought to myself - maybe it's time I took a holiday, let everybody cool down

Edgar Langeveldt - stand-up comedian
Some leading performers have decided to go abroad to escape harassment. The most prominent of these is the singer Thomas Mapfumo.

Mapfumo recently set up a second home in the United States because he felt it was no longer safe for him and his family in Zimbabwe.

Comedian gagged

The country's top stand-up comic, Edgar Langeveldt, also decided recently to travel and work outside Zimbabwe following political pressure. His jaw was broken last year by an attacker who claimed to work for the state.

More recently a government MP walked out of a performance Langeveldt was giving at a beauty pageant. The next day four armed men stormed the office of the organiser and threatened to close the annual event down.

Zimbabwean musician Oliver Mtukudzi
Oliver Mtukudzi: Inspiring opposition to the government
Since then censorship forms have been distributed. Now, before a show a performer and his script have to be cleared.

"I don't want to die for comedy," says Edgar. "I thought to myself - maybe it's time I took a holiday, let everybody cool down!"

Safer at home

Many artists say they're close to going abroad but find it hard to leave their home country. Singer Chiwoniso Maraire says she does not feel in any physical danger at present. But if it ever came to that she would rather be in danger in her home country than in a foreign land.

"First I would have to start answering that I'm an African; then I would have to start answering that I'm an African woman; and then I'd have to start answering why I was singing against that particular government."

A song by Chiwoniso was banned on state-controlled radio last year. Now it is being played again - that is how contradictory and unpredictable the state's response to cultural resistance can be at times.

In this atmosphere of uncertainty, artists can only guess at the limits of the government's tolerance. That is why some feel it's easier to leave home, at least for a while.

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See also:

15 Jan 01 | Africa
By-election test for Mugabe
02 Jan 01 | Africa
Zimbabwe faces food crisis
10 Jan 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Zimbabwe
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