Zodwa ban — Too much censorship emerging in Zim

HARARE - The Aeneas Chigwedere-led Board of Censors has unleashed controversy by banning South African socialite Zodwa Wabantu from performing at the Harare International Carnival.

Apparently, the board —whose vision is to be the best providers of moral guidance and advisers to the public on entertainment matters in Zimbabwe as provided for in the Censorship and Entertainment Control Act (Chapter 10:04) — banned Zodwa ostensibly because she wanted to take part in the carnival without wearing underwear, her trademark.

Apparently, the chain of events leading to her ban was instigated by fading Studio 263 actress and Zanu PF supporter, Anne Nhira, who sent a letter of complaint to the Tourism and Hospitality Industry ministry complaining that Zodwa was being booked at the expense of local talent and that she cannot be allowed to perform without panties.

The ban was curious because earlier last month, the socialite was allowed to perform in Bulawayo without heckles.

Zodwa’s ban has predictably sparked a series of social media frenzies, amid fears a growing number of entertainment joints could be proscribed by the censorship board, whose mission is to regulate, monitor and control the public exhibition of films, the importation, production, dissemination and possession of undesirable or prohibited film material, publications, pictures or photographs, statues and records and the giving of any form of public entertainment.

The public backlash to the Zodwa ban has ended in embarrassment for censors.

It’s sad that this Chigwedere-led board is behaving like some moral guardian saying, “You can’t watch this.”

People can vote in Zimbabwe. If they have the power to choose their leader, why don’t they have the power to choose the type of entertainment they want to watch? It’s sad that Nhira has been allowed to arbitrarily censor Zodwa.

After the board advised the Home Affairs minister on the Zodwa matter arising out of the application by Nhira under provisions of the Censorship and Entertainment (control) Act, Ignatius Chombo said he will support the decision taken by the board.

For starters, the Censorship Act which creates this board is ultra vires the new Constitution adopted in 2013, which really has an expanded Bill of Rights, providing for free artistic expression, cultural beliefs and association.

How did the censorship board determine that Zodwa is indecent and offensive?

Well, Chigwedere claims they “networked” as a board and just voted against Zodwa coming to Zimbabwe.

It is clear this censorship board has wide and unfettered discretion on what is undesirable. Clearly, this needs to be challenged in the Constitutional Court. The board’s powers must be clipped to at least match the limitations that are spelt out in the Constitution.

Nhira cannot be allowed to single-handedly define what fits contemporary standards of decorum in Zimbabwe, overturning the wishes of 95 percent of Zimbabweans that voted yes to the new Constitution in the March 2013 referendum when she was in South Africa.

I don’t buy her argument that Zodwa’s entertainment violates community guidelines, yet the same Harare Carnival platform allows for a litany of pornographic dancers such as the Samba Dancers, local acts Zoey and Bev, and topless performers, which she doesn’t protest to.

We need to address the complex network of eroticisation, judgment, censorship and dis-empowerment women face simply for living in the bodies they were born with.

There is no need for all this controversy over what’s too racy for the carnival. It’s a carnival for Christ’s sake!

Don’t we have Zanu PF ministers running strip tease pubs in Harare? Saka chashata chii? What hypocrisy is this?

In a decade that saw increased freedoms for women in voting, birth control, and in economic opportunities, the banning of Zodwa suggest a hollow victory for the agents of a cultural backlash such as Nhira against progressive entertainment.

On the other hand, the failure to translate the progressive entertainment offered by Zodwa as a democratic art into a protective buffer between adult entertainment and those who would demonise the new medium as a source of cultural, social, and religious upheaval exposes the limits of the reform agenda of progressives.

And by the way, this hype over Zodwa is good for the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA), the organisers of the carnival.

It has done enough to hype the carnival, which is coming back after a one-year hiatus.

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