Zimbabwean artists participation in politics: Ngatibudiranei pachena!


by Silvanos Mudzvova

The ‘Arts’ sector has for years complained that the government and politicians are not respecting them by not listening to their demands. Since 1980 the Zanu PF government has never appointed a cabinet minister with an arts background to head the Arts ministry. As a result, the ‘Arts’ sector has continually been under-funded compared to the ‘Sports’ sector year on year. The parliamentary portfolio committee responsible for Arts also consists of people who have no Art background as such they don’t have any idea of what issues are affecting the Arts sector. They have never been any public hearing called for by the parliamentary committee since 1980, yet artists are always complaining about the challenges they face every day. The current cabinet appointed by the Mugabe (the 93-year-old President) has placed the arts sector under an obscure ministry that most artists are not aware of. Most artists are not aware of their current minister or how much budget was allocated to the ministry.

Artists’ always complain about a lack of funding from the government, however, the complaints are raised behind-closed-door meetings amongst the artists themselves, as they can’t openly complain directly to the government or any of its officials. I have always raised the question why don’t we write opinion articles, give press statements, create artistic products protesting about this situation. The answer is, “I don’t want to get involved in politics.”

My friends and colleagues, politics is determining my and your future. Politics is killing your livelihood, politics is stifling the creation of more art products. As artists, we should not wait for politicians to change in favor of the arts sector but we should make them change to recognize what we require of them.

This brings me to a very controversial issue that has affected many artists over the last decade. The issue of, ‘Artists openly supporting a political party of their choice,  KUBUDIRANA PACHENA.’

American hip hop artists’ openly support their preferred presidential candidates in US Presidential Elections. This has now become a norm in American Politics, evidenced by Hip Hop Artist Young Jeezy’s song “My President.” American Music Rapper Lil B made headlines when he decided to endorse Bernie Sanders, the list is endless and audiences (voters) respect this behavior as the artists will be raising awareness and the politician is over the moon as they will are endorsed by celebrities. Let’s come closer to home (Our Zimbabwe) before I am dismissed as an agent of the west or admiring western culture which is not even close to us and talk of South African artists, Solly Moholo.

Solly Moholo played a critical role in supporting Thabo Mbeki (former South African President), Urban pop singer Chomee, known for her gyrating dance moves endorsed President Jacob Zuma at an ANC event.

On 17 July 2016 the City Press reported, “…at the launch of the ANC’s Countdown to Victory campaign in anticipation of the upcoming municipal polls – hosted on Wednesday night at The Market Theatre in Newtown, Johannesburg – celebrities including Khanyi Mbau, Kelly Khumalo, Nhlanhla Nciza, Criselda Dudumashe, Jimmy Tau, Mike Mangena and others came in their numbers to endorse the ruling party.”

This clearly indicates the level of maturity and involvement of artists in determining their own future yet in Zimbabwe it’s all about, “I don’t get involved in politics,” yet this ‘politics’ is determining your artistic journey. Come on Comrades!! Ngatibudiranei pachena!! (let’s come in the open)

In Zimbabwe since the liberation struggle, Cde Chinx was known for supporting the ruling party Zanu PF. We have all danced to his music besides its ideological bankruptcy and people are accustomed to his political beliefs. Soul Jah Luv, born Soul Musaka on the 22nd November 1989 has done the same. He openly sang about his admiration towards Mbare MP Hon. Savanhu in a song titled “Savanhu Wembare.” He chants Zanu Pf slogans in the song. He also has a composition for Robert Mugabe titled, “Gushungo/Zimbabwe,” where he joins other praise singers of the dictator Mugabe. Today if Soul Jah Luv’s song, “Pamamonya Ipapo,” is played we all dance to it. The people of Zimbabwe have accepted, Soul Jah Luv is Zanu Pf and they respect him for that. The list of Zanu Pf musicians also includes Tambaoga, the late Simon Chimbetu, the late Elliot Manyika, Taurai Mteki the list is endless.

There are others, though few, musicians that have aligned themselves through their music to the main opposition party in Zimbabwe, MDC-T led by Morgan Tsvangirai. This list includes Dread Reckless and Sister Fearless. These artists have released albums dedicated to the opposition in their struggle against the oppressive regime.

In Zimbabwe, there are those artists that protest and highlight the plight of the Zimbabwean people through songs. These artists in their songs concentrate on Human Rights and Governance issues without being aligned to a political party.  Hosea Chipanga is a guru in this area, as evidenced by a lyric from one of his songs, “……vatadza kupedza hurumbo vakati ngatipedze varombo….” Most of Chipanga’s albums are pregnant with emotion and when you listen deeply to his music thinking about Zimbabwe, tears will flow. Another musician is Leonard Karikonga Zhakata others would prefer to call him, ‘Master of song’. This is one musician with deep political satire which is not for the faint-hearted. Thomas Mapfumo needs no introduction since he has been doing protest music since 1979.

In Zimbabwe, most of the artist don’t like coming in the open to declare which side they are but at times it’s so obvious. Jah Prayzah uses military attire as his official stage uniform. It should be noted the use of military uniform is not allowed for civilians even on stage but Makombe was granted permission to use it. It’s common knowledge the Zimbabwean regime mainly the military and police do strict vetting before they allow you to use their regalia and this vetting includes a question, ‘Which political party do you support?’

It’s either you are Zanu Pf or the Opposition to them (neutral doesn’t exist) and for you to be granted a job, uniform to use in dramas, the basic is that you have to be with Zanu Pf. I, Silvanos Mudzvova, have undergone the vetting that I am stating in this article on several occasions. I know the process and I remember the questions along with the answers I gave. Hence, I urge Jah Prayzah to come out in the open and let people know the truth.

Simon Chimbetu was the most popular at the turn of the millennium, we all danced to his music fully aware of the fact he was Zany Pf. I urge Jah Prayzah to further his cause openly without any fear as his talent will stand for him.  Sulumani Chimbetu is also the other musician who doesn’t want a tag on him but his record speaks for itself. I will not bring his father into this but his employment at Airforce where some vetting is done, it’s clear you can’t get employed by the military, police, air force and the central intelligence organization without declaring your allegiance to Zanu Pf.

If popular artists openly declare about what they are it will make life easier for young and upcoming artists to be involved in the politics of the country. We need to reignite peoples participation in national affairs and artists mainly musicians as role models can assist in this regard. People of Zimbabwe fear so much to voice their concerns and the only way to break this is by using their role models who should be there to give courage. For any country to achieve development its citizens need to be involved in the politics of their country.

Music and Politics have long been connected and it can be traced back to Napoleon in 1789 (France). Most recently music was used to achieve development when a series of concerts was used to put pressure on G8 Leaders to change their policy on third world debt this happened in July 2005 at an event dubbed Live8.

Let artist’s rise up and open up about our allegiance to certain politicians so that we can contribute towards what we want. Let us be proud of what we want and determine our country’s destiny. Music has the power to change or influence politics of a country like what happened in America when we reflect on Obama’s Presidential Campaigns that he ran in particular when he ran against the Republican Candidate John McCain. Obama received the support of artists across the spectrum (Bob Dylan, Arcade Fire, Springsteen, Green Day and Usher, to name just a few), John McCain struggled to find support from musicians as a result, McCain lost the election.

I urge Zimbabwean Musicians to stand up and be counted and define how their country moves forward.

Silvanos Mudzvova is an Arts Activists currently he is an Artist Protection Fund Fellow at the University Of Manchester. email: vhitori@gmail.com

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