Artists paid tribute to the contribution of journalists and other media workers in Zimbabwe and hailed continued advocacy for an improved environment for media workers. Participating in a panel discussion on “Art as Expression” to mark World Press Freedom Day at the United States Embassy’s Eastgate offices on Tuesday, the artists noted that they face challenges such as censorship, restricted access to venues to perform works themed around governance and human rights issues, and lack of political will to recognize the arts sector as an industry.
Silvanos Mudzvova, whose recent 30-minute play, “The Mission $15 billion: I want my share,” was recently staged at Theatre in the Park, led the charge arguing that media bodies such as the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists and Media Institute of Southern Africa only protected journalists “letting us down yet we face similar challenges.”
While paying tribute to the media, the artists chronicled a series of events that showed that the environment for artists is no different from that of journalists: punctuated by censorship, denial of access, and lack of drive among artists to unite to fight for their rights.
Like journalists, artists pay a fee to perform, charged Mudzvova. He added, “this habit of submitting plays to some boards first and allowing some messages or scenes to be removed results in the artistic creativity being diluted.” He said political interests were now getting in the way of arts production and some government bodies with no legal mandate were getting involved. “You go with your script to the Censorship Board and you are told to go to the Ministry of Information, what law are they using? Galleries are no longer showcasing work on human rights and democracy,” said Mudzvova.
Plot Mhako of Jibilika Dance Trust was positive about the role of journalists, but noted that the economic situation was forcing them to sensationalize stories. “The economic conditions has forced media to respond to the gallery to sell, they tend to concentrate on what the general populace wants to hear—scandals and all the juicy stories about artists,” he said.
He said this has created a scenario in which journalists are beginning to “miss key artistic elements from their reporting.” He also noted that the reporting tends to favor certain genres, particularly music,marginalizing dance and theater, which more and more has used social media platforms to reach audiences.
Another theater and television producer Patience Tayengwa said the lack of drive and will to see an advocacy grouping representing artists coming to fruition was a big letdown to the arts industry. “We get very emotional about issues such as royalties and less performance fees compared to foreign artists- but our protestations are very short-lived,” said the founder of Milele Arts, sharing examples of incidents when artists could have spoken with one voice but failed to.
She said she was concerned that there is a lot of stereotyping on all artists as they are suspected to be doing political plays and putting across political messages. However she said she believed dialogue works and she had recorded some successes with plays and productions considered to be controversial.
But Mhako, whose organization- Jibilika Dance Trust- specializes in dance and music, said censorship of Jibilika’s works has not been from government but from members of society, including churches who are still shy to talk about social challenges like HIV/AIDS. “For example, it is considered taboo to go and talk about condom use in schools,” he noted.
“We are getting better each and every time (at expressing ourselves as artists) because we have so many platforms,” said Silvanhos Mudzova of Vhitori Entertainment, a local theatre group in Harare. “We are worried about the public broadcaster because they do not cover art that is not supportive of the government, yet they can broadcast art that promotes violence and certain hate messages targeted at other groups,” he added.- ZimPAS © May 5, 2016