Censorship Board to silence artists

HARARE - Artists, arts practitioners and civil society are suspicious that the newly-appointed Censorship Board announced by Home Affairs minister Ignatius Chombo recently is not about the contested moral righteousness but policing citizens’ artistic freedoms and freedom of expression, generation and access to information online and offline.

Chombo appointed the Censorship Board that will be chaired by former Education and Culture minister Aeneas Chigwedere while being deputised by Kozani Ncube.

Other members of the board are Bona Chikore; senior assistant commissioner of police Charity Charamba; Father Fidelis Mukonori; Tungamirai Muganhiri; Chenjerai Daitai; Runyararo Magadzire; Chief Nyamukoho Katsande; Regis Chikowore and Shingai Ndoro.

Writer Virginia Phiri said she believes that any Censorship Board is usually not buddies with creatives for obvious reasons.

“My feeling is these boards are usually heavy handed, thus discouraging creativity among those who express themselves fully in their work.

“In the process creatives are deprived of earning an honest living resulting in increasing numbers of the unemployed.

“Hoping that the new board will let creatives express themselves freely as this is where frankness and the truth is shared,” said Phiri.

Misa-Zimbabwe executive director Nhlanhla Ngwenya said the challenge with boards such as this one is the legislative framework under which they are established.

“Like other such boards, their sole purpose is not to enhance freedoms but to limit them. So instead of us focusing on the personalities that make up the board we should be seriously looking at the law that establishes it and ask if we need it at all, if we do, we then enact democratic legislation that will ensure there is transparency and accountability in the appointment process and execution of duty, which conduct must be guided by the Constitution.

“For many years the Censorship Board has assumed the notorious character of a morality police as well as an unchecked gatekeeper who decides what content is right or wrong for Zimbabweans.

“They have banned some plays with political satire and films that reflect badly on the ruling elite all on flimsy grounds that they were not suitable for the majority of the people.

“And now that Chombo says the new board will extend its control tentacles to the social media, it’s clear it’s not about the contested moral righteousness but policing citizens’ artistic freedoms, freedom of expression, generation and access to information online and offline,” said Ngwenya.

He added that Zimbabwe does not need another body or layer of repression under the guise of promoting morality; it needs democratic laws and institutions that will ensure constitutionalism goes beyond simply flaunting the Constitution.

Playwright and actor Slyvanos Mudzvova said this board has actually been put to silence mainly artists dealing with human rights-related artistic products.

“The board consists of people who have no experience in dealing with artistic products at all. Their agenda is so simple — ban anything that is critical to President Robert Mugabe and his regime.

“Serious artists will not submit anything to this board as a way of protest for its composition,” said Mudzvova.

Social commentator Rejoice Ngwenya said: “With the drastic modernisation of the creative industry (e-ntertainment, e-reading, the drone and virtual creations), it’s surprising that Mugabe can appoint dinosaurs, drunken with conservative stupour, to preside over 21st Century creativity.

“It shows Mugabe views everything through the partisan prism, with an eye on 2018. What these human fossils do not know is that the IOT (internet of things) no longer allows political hoodlums clad in statutory censorship clothes to poison creativity.”

Theatre producer Mthabisi Phili believes any sinking man will catch at a straw. “They are catching at straws now; I think Zanu PF is strengthening its censorship and control muscle ahead of the upcoming elections.

“It’s more of a political move than just the employment of people. The true colours that we are under a dictatorship are really coming out through the rampant nepotism and focus more on control than management of institutions.”

Phili added that the names stated on the board all seem to be pro Zanu PF or sympathisers of some sort. “The idea of getting Bona Chikore on the board and also her husband as the COO of Air Zimbabwe is definitely a show that the dictatorship or the ruling family is now very much alarmed.”

Nhimbe Trust executive director Josh Nyapimbi said in accordance with international standards and respecting the 2013 Constitution, “Zimbabwe should abolish the Censorship Act and any prior-censorship bodies or systems where they exist and use subsequent imposition of restrictions only when permitted under article 19 (3) and 20 of ICCPR. Such restrictions should be imposed exclusively by a court of law.”

Nyapimbi said the Censorship Board and other bodies censoring or regulating artistic expressions should be replaced with a classification board mandated to issue age recommendations to protect children.

“Instead we urge government to take measures, including training of police, to ensure the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act and the Public Order and Security Act (Posa) are not abused by the police to limit artistic freedom of expression in violation of the 2013 Constitution and Zimbabwe’s international obligations.”

An actor and playwright who refused to be named said the new Censorship Board has come as a great shock to artists. “With the emergence of social media and how we have been pushing work to millions of people across the globe you would think that a modern government will realise that it is no longer necessary to tell artists how to do their work and tell them what to say and not to say. Censor what really?”

He said people are already communicating via social media. “It is sad to see that some people are still scared of artists and divergent voices. The board is made up of old people that do not understand the modern communication patterns.

“The introduction of Bona Chikore baffles as she neither has the time nor the need for the job in a country with millions of unemployed youths.

“One is tempted to think that it’s just a platform to create earnings for the inner circle because there is really no need for a censorship board in the 21st Century.”

Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe senior officer Faith Ndlovu said: “Already analysts have pointed out that the Constitution does not provide for a censorship board.

Having said that the problem is that the government has a propensity to limit, control and criminalise free expression so within that context it is difficult not to view the Censorship Board as another instrument to stifle free expression by the government.”

Comments (1)

what can you expect from the Mugabes ????

safa ngendlala - 16 June 2017

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