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Zimbabwe: Can Winky D be a new Bobi Wine?

The Yoweri Museveni government in Uganda seemed to have learnt the lessons the hard way in the way it handled the Bobi Wine issue

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By AfricaLegalNews Book and Film Club

Zimbabwe’s top reggae artists Winky Dee made the headlines over his latest album, titled Njema (chains) which was launched on the night of 31 December 2019 and the morning of 1 January 2020. In the few days of 2019 leading to The Final Shutdown show, there were indications that some forces aligned to the government wanted to stop the launch scheduled for the Harare International Conference Centre.

The history of artists in Zimbabwe had always been marred by subtle censorship whenever the State deemed that some lyrical content was anti-regime. These include Thomas Mapfumo, Leonard Zhakata and even the late Oliver Mtukudzi at times. Thomas Mapfumo made a name singing revolutionary songs in both the pre- and post-Independence days. For his efforts, he had to go into exile.   Some artists such as Winky D himself and dancehall artists Platinum Prince had even been violently assaulted for their music, sometimes by masked uniformed men or by alleged Zanu PF party cadres.

Platinum Prince was assaulted by masked men

Some artists such as Cde Chinx also sang music critical the new State with songs such as Rojer Confirm. However, at the height of the land reform programme, he was drafted to being one of the regime praise singers.

The plight of artists was dire in the pre-YouTube years when the only way an artist could get considerable coverage was via the state-owned media as Zimbabwe had never tolerated media plurality, especially on television channels. With the rise of social media, artists can make their mark regardless of airplay on official or state-owned broadcast channels.

The rise of alternative media means artists, with lyrics deemed to be dissident, can still transmit their message to the masses.

Lessons from Uganda

The Yoweri Museveni government in Uganda seemed to have learnt the lessons the hard way in the way it handled the Bobi Wine issue. Bobi Wine ( real name: Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu) was, and continues to be, a top reggae and ghetto artists who churned out powerful songs such as Situka and Time Bomb which lament corruption and embezzlement of funds in modern Uganda.

Bobi Wine, musician and politician (Pic: Reuters)

Bobi Wine’s music and outspoken messages catapulted him into standing for election and winning the Kyadondo East parliamentary seat in a 2017 by-election. Since then he has been a victim of State repression, and at one time his driver was shot dead by suspected State agents.  He has since expressed interest in running for the presidency.

What’s wrong with censorship laws and policies

Censorship laws and policies are problematic in a sate that has a troubled history with democracy. In the recent past, during the Robert Mugabe days, Mugabe’s daughter Bona was appointed to the Censorship Board. This appointment at the time posed challenges as in any county there is bound to be content critical of the presidency and senior branches of government.

Furthermore,  with artists and the media, censorship curtails transparent and accountability on the part of government officials and stifles democracy and freedom of expression.

Zimbabwe and world laws are clear that freedom of expression should be upheld. The 2013 Constitution of Zimbabwe provides for freedom of expression and freedom of the media in section  61. Section 61 (1) (b) is explicit that, “Every person has the right to freedom of expression, which includes freedom of artistic expression and scientific research and creativity.”

The section does not seem to have helped musicians, writers and other artists at the moment. Much needs to be done in the country, including freeing the airwaves.

Whether Zimbabwe, under the leadership of Emmerson Mnangagwa, will continue to remain a black spot for artistic freedom and free expression remains to be seen. Still, at the moment, the environment is bleak.

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