Conference about violence and censorship in Harare

July 2008 -

Just before the presidential elections in Zimbabwe, on June 7, 2008, Hivos organized Expression under Repression, a conference about art and artists in times of censorship and violence in Harare. The meeting in the Delta Gallery was closed, making it possible to conduct it without permission from the government. The timing was perfect; right now Mugabe's storm troops are increasingly intimidating artists.


Comedy performance by Michael K during Expression under Repression

"One of my actors was recently beaten up", related the director of the Amakhosi Theatre in Bulawayo. "He played in a piece about a girl who died due to famine. It was based on an actual event, but the authorities wanted none of it." Since the beginning of June 2008 NGOs have not been allowed to distribute food. That is now the government's job.

In spite of censorship and intimidation, a great deal is possible in Zimbabwe. Within a single week, there were two premières of theatre performances in Harare, which criticized the political situation in Zimbabwe with a great deal of humour. Great Escape at the Scorpion Theater relates how two residents of Zimbabwe tried to flee to South Africa underground using a special machine and unexpectedly came back to the surface right next to Mugabe’s residence. Rooftop Productions presented a Beckett-esque play in which three men are the helpless victims of the political abuse.

"In Harare it is possible to present such performances. Those in the audience have different backgrounds and live in different neighbourhoods scattered throughout Harare, so they will not quickly feel compelled to mount collective action,” explains director Daves Guzha. "In the provinces, the piece has been banned for some time due to fear of organised demonstrations."

It seems to be possible to evade censorship using creative solutions. When Guzha's play Two Leaders was banned in 2005, he immediately distributed over 50,000 DVDs of the piece in Southern Africa. During performances, actors regularly add spontaneous lines to an original script that has been approved by the censorship committee.