‘Offensive’ Gukurahundi art: State withdraws charges

Nqobile Bhebhe

THE state has withdrawn charges against acting Bulawayo Art Gallery director Voti Thebe for allegedly displaying offensive material by renowned Bulawayo visual artist Owen Maseko on the 1980s Gukurahundi massacres.

Thebe, the gallery curator, was arrested last March at the National Gallery in Bulawayo for sanctioning the exhibition in Bulawayo of the Matabeleland massacres carried out by President Robert Mugabe’s troops in the 1980s. Thebe failed to obtain clearance from the Censorship and Entertainment Board, the police claimed.

 

According to the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace over 20 000 people were killed during the Gukurahundi, which government claimed was a counter-insurgency operation against dissidents between 1983 and 1987.  Mugabe has since described the period as a “moment of madness”, but is yet to apologise for the massacres.

Thebe was arrested alongside Maseko, who is now challenging the constitutionality of his arrest and the matter is awaiting determination by the Supreme Court.

Last Friday the state withdrew charges against Thebe before plea when he appeared before magistrate Sikhumbuzo Nyathi.
He would now appear in court by way of summons.

It was alleged that police officers went to the art gallery on March 26 and found the Gukurahundi material on display.

The material contained statues and inscriptions describing the Fifth Brigade operations in rural Matabeleland and Midlands.

One of the main subjects of the exhibition was the massacre of thousands of people accused of supporting Mugabe’s political rival, Joshua Nkomo.

The state argued that Thebe, in his capacity as the acting regional director and the exhibition manager at Bulawayo Art Gallery, had no permission to exhibit the material.

It alleged the material — which included 12 paintings depicting violent recollections of brutal murders and was displayed in three sections of the gallery —was undesirable and a threat to national security, public order, health and safety.

Police could not remove the graphic pictures and graffiti because it had been painted directly onto the walls of the gallery.

Old newspapers have been used to cover windows so that people walking past the gallery could not see the images.

Maseko’s exhibition was called Sibathontisele (Let’s Drip On Them), an allusion to blood, and also a form of torture using burning plastic that was institutionalised during the Gukurahundi era.