THE arts world both at home and abroad has of late placed President Robert Mugabe in their firing line.
This is in sharp contrast to the early days of Zimbabwe’s Independence which saw artists releasing a wave of praise works paying trib
ute to Mugabe as a hero of the struggle against colonialism.
Arts commentators who spoke to Independent Xtra this week said artists were now engaging in “protest art”, a phenomenon usually ignited by growing dissent among the people against their political leadership, simply narrated and captured by artistic work.
They contend that the line dividing arts and politics is wafer thin, thus artists through their products inevitably become political players since they mirror society and are seen as opinion leaders.
A few bold exiled musicians have managed to air their views on Mugabe’s style of governance.
A fortnight ago one, Viomak, a Zimbabwean woman based in Canada, become the latest such musician to fire a broadside at Mugabe’s presidency in her debut album titled Happy 82nd birthday President Mugabe (Diaspora classics 1) in which she bemoans the political and economic hardships bedevilling her fellow countrymen owing to the regime’s obsession with power.
US-based Chimurenga guru, Thomas Mapfumo, has also openly criticised Mugabe in hard-hitting productions such as Chimurenga Explosion, and Rise Up, which was released last year.
Sizwe Thuthuka, an independent arts and media commentator, said protest art is ample reflection of public opinion.
“Protest or praise art reflects public opinion at the time,” said Thuthuka.
“If you look at praise art that is currently used during events such as the 21st February Movement, it is propaganda that was created during the Jonathan Moyo era.
The only genuine praise from artists Mugabe received was that made soon after Independence. Such form of art is increasingly getting scarce and only political and economic intervention from Mugabe himself can save the day. Moyo did it for him.
At present there is no political commitment available to edify him as the current crop of politicians are concentrating on the succession race.”
Local theatre practitioners on the other hand have decided to tone down their criticism taking an indirect confrontation route as evidenced in the political satire, Pregnant with Emotions, produced recently by Rooftop Promotions.
Thuthuka added that the “intelligent play” directly attacks government for its oppression and suppression of popular will, while indirectly attacking Mugabe in a manner noted by “the assertive eye”.
On the regional front Mugabe has invited ridicule from controversial South African kwaito stars, Mzekezeke and club disc jockey Bonginkosi Dlamini, popularly known as Zola.
Mzekezeke mocks the president in his latest album Ama BEE, in which he lists Mugabe among a sheaf of celebrities as possible faces behind his mask.
In one of the tracks Ubani Umzekezeke (Who is Mzekezeke) he sings: “Abanye bathi u Sbu ngu Mzekezeke… (Some say Sbu-YFM DJ Leope is Mzekezeke)…” and then he goes on: “…What about uMugabe for Mzekezeke?”
In June last year, Zola reportedly told Zimbabweans during a show in the UK that “Mugabe has destroyed that country, and it troubles me deeply. Sometimes you wish you had a solution to a people’s crisis, like the one you have.”
However, another arts practitioner and observer who declined to be named said it was “myopic mindedness” for artists to turn their different genres into protest art.
The practitioner added that artists should stick to their business and desist from becoming political players.
“I condemn musicians, poets, actors or any other such artist who derives satisfaction from deriding their own head of state, it’s inane and shows insanity of the highest order. Art is there to celebrate humanity.
Period! It boggles the mind to note that some local artists have chosen to go to bed with forces of imperialism; they’re not grateful for what the man (Mugabe) has achieved.
Had it not been for his sacrifice and commitment to making Zimbabwe free, the so-called protest artists were going to remain nonentities with no identity in Rhodesia.”
Mugabe also gets rare praises in a South African film Son of Man released early this year containing echoes about the Zimbabwean situation.
The motion picture is a new interpretation of the Bible casting Jesus Christ as a revolutionary black man fighting oppression in contemporary Africa.
In the film an imaginary southern African country — resembling Zimbabwe — pins its hope on a “black Jesus” as its political messiah.
On the global artistic scene, Damien Marley, the youngest son of reggae maestro Bob Marley, last year partnered American music poet and rap-star Nasir Jones, popularly known as Nas or Escobar in the release of a 12-track album titled Welcome to Jamrock, which lashes out at Mugabe for allegedly precipitating political and economic decline in a country which stood as an economic powerhouse in 1980.
Paradoxically Damien’s father sang hero-worshipping songs in solidarity with Mugabe at Rufaro Stadium to mark Independence.
The duo, known for their strong pan-African ideology, accuse Mugabe of “putting rifles to his own people’s heads” in the song Road to Zion. Nas goes thus during his rap line:
“Sometimes I can’t help but feel helpless, I am having day mares in day time, wide awake trying to relate, this can’t be happening like I’m in a dream while I’m walking coz what I’m seeing is hurting, human beings like ghost and zombies, President Mugabe holding guns to innocent bodies in Zimbabwe, they make John Pope seem Godly, sacrilegious and blasphemous, in my life time I look back in paths I walked, where savages fought and passengers taught.”
Adding to the firestorm of criticism, according to government allegations, is a Hollywood political thriller, The Interpreter, also released last year.
The movie, starring Nicole Kidman and Senn Penn, mirrors an embattled imaginary African state whose aging leader is due to address the UN General Assembly in a bid to exonerate himself from the atrocities he committed against humanity.
When the film was released government was quick to dismiss it as a Central Intelligence Agency project to vilify Mugabe through Hollywood films.