Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Thomas Mapfumo’s ‘Dangerzone’ Album: A Call for a Better Zimbabwe and World

By Takura Zhangazha*

Thomas Mapfumo’s latest and recently released in Zimbabwe album is titled “Dangerzone’. It has been a while since he last released an album with new songs for his fans and the general public. Already it is apparent that the album will not receive much airplay on radio stations because some of the songs are intended at raising the political and social consciousness of Zimbabweans. It is an intention that sadly remains unpalatable to the powers that be. Especially where the state broadcast media is used for propaganda purposes.

What is apparent is that Mukanya is an artist who in Steve Biko parlance, ‘writes/sings what he likes’.  And the people of Zimbabwe know this. Including the historical habit he has acquired of being a much respected and loved griot where it comes to explaining and warning about events in his home country.  So the limited airplay this album gets from the state media does not take away its significance to national consciousness.

This latest offering which hit the streets and flea markets last week  belongs to the hearts and minds of all Zimbabweans.  Not only in its expressing their deep felt desires for a peaceful, democratic country but also for continuing to place our musical heritage on the world music map.

In this Mukanya places Chimurenga music into sharp consciousness for global consumption while simultaneously talking to his own domestic audience that he has hope and belief that eventually things will work out in Zimbabwe. 

Listening to the album one is struck by the depth of his reflection on our contemporary Zimbabwean and international  realities.  

From the first track which refers to  a husband/boyfriend’s  disappointment at being rejected by his lover it is evident Mukanya is continually sensitive as to how love relationships are constrained in contemporary Zimbabwe.  ‘Chikonzero’, is a finely tuned song, that can be viewed as a reflection of why our country’s civil courts are flooded with divorce cases.  And its all about the money on either side.

The second and title track 'Dangerzone', is a reflection of how global conflicts  in Syria, Nigeria are making the world a much more dangerous place to live in. True to its lyrics, we all want to know ‘what’s going on’ and how these wars can be stopped.

On the third track, ‘Zimbabwe’ he urges all Zimbabweans to unite and find common ground on the challenges facing the country. He takes this theme a notch further in another track on the same album, ‘Hatidi Politics’ where he laments the over politicization of basic issues such as health and education.

The most blunt song is perhaps track number four, 'Nhamo Hurombo' in which Mukanya asks the stark question  ‘who has caused so much poverty in the country?’. Inferences can be drawn as to who he means when he refers to ‘sekuru’, ‘ambuya’, ‘tete’, ‘baba’, ‘amai’ as being the causers of poverty. Either way we are all talking about this same said poverty in the kombis and in our bedrooms is the slightly satirical assertion he makes in the song. 

The album also has songs that are testimony of easy on the ear Chimurenga music. The new version of the classic ‘Shebeen’ is a dance-able tune that has new backing vocalists to make it trendy and contemporary.  Furthermore the tracks ‘Celebrate’, ‘Chikwereti’, ‘Music’ and ‘Are You Ready’ augment the fact that Chimurenga music is not just about lyrics but more importantly, instrumentation. They are also testament to the fact that Mukanya remains one of the best composers of music Zimbabwe has ever produced. 

As is the norm, the album does not forget the origins of its genre and therefore includes the effervescent mbira instrument in two tracks, ‘Varimudande’ and ‘Pasi Idandaro’.  In the former track, one is reminded of the traditional music played by and for spirit mediums while the latter track reminds listeners of that which we fear most, mortality.

For Chimurenga music fans like myself, this album is a gem and justifies why it was long in the making.  For Zimbabweans, this album is both a reminder of our common destiny as it is one to entertain us despite the daily hardships that we face.  Once again, Mukanya has demonstrated that even though he is far away, he has his country and its people in his heart, mind and music.

*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com) 

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

The Ironies of Professor Jonathan Moyo's Social Media 'Arrival'

*By Takura Zhangazha

The Minister of Information, Media and Broadcasting Services, Professor Jonathan Moyo has announced, with a little bit of drama, that he is now going to be directly using social media platforms Facebook and Twitter.  Just in case he tweets that his announcement  was without drama, it would be useful to point out that his joining the social media bandwagon has very little to do with the ‘Arab Spring’. 

To the owners of the applications, he is   probably a great marketing addition to their statistical value vis-à-vis what they probably consider to be a relatively small Zimbabwean market.

For keen social media users, both in the Diaspora and at home, this will be viewed as a chance to get in touch or probably just monitor his accounts to know about his personal views or government policies.

There are however a number of striking ironies to his actions.  The most glaring one is that in general, the minister presides over a censored state controlled media. Particularly where it comes to the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) and the stock exchange listed Zimbabwe Newspapers Group (Zimpapers). Very few stories of dissenting voices are carried by these two media houses.  In the case of the ZBC no opposition rally, meeting or press conference has ever been carried live withe on radio or television. Yet the minister responsible for them has taken to these new media platforms that function largely without direct and evident censorship. 

This is not to say he has no right to be there. He very much does both in terms of his constitutional right to express himself, access information and associate with whoever he wishes to.  The only catch is that he is responsible for the media in cabinet and with limited little to show by way of reforming it to allow the greater majority of Zimbabweans to enjoy those rights that he will most certainly have on Facebook and Twitter.  This is more ironic in that even if he were to claim that government controlled media has editorial independence, it has not demonstrated so under his current tenure. 

Or if alternatively he were to argue that reforming the mainstream and still much more influential media is work in progress, indications are that government is not keen on same said reform. Ditto the cabinet ambiguity over criminalization of freedom of expression. And initial ruling party resistance to the Information and Media Panel of Inquiry (IMPI) that he appointed last year. 

The jury may still be out on the latter panel until its report is made public but the continued state control over the media can only indicate that whatever its recommendations, government will still have a benevolent attitude toward media freedom.  Especially where it concerns the state media and criminalization of journalism.    

Apart from this particular irony of seeking to express himself where others have had to resort to for lack of mainstream media options under his purview,  there is the fact of government hostility toward new media technologies and ‘shadowy’ content or characters.  

A continuing case before the courts  is that of  Sunday Mail editor, Edmund Kudzayi who is facing trial for alleged involvement in the Facebook character, Baba Jukwa.  It is a landmark one that will have far reaching ramifications for users of social media in Zimbabwe.  Not that the minister can change the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act without his principals consent, but one can be forgiven for not missing the irony.

Finally, an interesting take on this would be that academic adage of the ‘medium is the message.’ While it is normal for cabinet ministers the world over to have social media accounts and expand their reach,  a majority Zimbabwe’s government ministers do not do so.  In taking to social media perhaps Professor J. Moyo is signifying a change in government attitude or at least wishing for it.  Even after he made comments about social media ‘malcontents’ in the wake President Mugabe’s recent and unfortunate ‘carpet mishap’. 

Government may be reluctantly moving from being regularly dismayed, angry and repressive about the medium of the internet to accepting the inevitability that it will inevitably form a key component of the holistic cultural lifestyles of Zimbabweans. The medium has perhaps become the message. And it comes from those countries that our government regularly refers to as 'imperialists.' Either way, one can only wish him happy surfing!
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Zim President's Airport 'Carpet Mishap': Explaining the Avid Public Reaction

By Takura Zhangazha*

President Mugabe, after addressing jubilant supporters upon his return from the African Union Summit in Ethiopia, had what the state media called a ‘carpet mishap’.  The private media referred to the incident as either  ‘Mugabe falls’ or ‘Mugabe falls down steps’ (DailyNews).  Images of the incident, even after some photojournalists had them deleted by security agents, found their way not only into mainstream private and global media but also the internet.  On the latter medium, some of the images reflected the actual event while a greater number had been photo-shopped to  infer different meaning.

Minister of Information, Professor Moyo downplayed the incident by claiming that essentially any one can stumble and fall, including Jesus.  Especially if carpets are not set right.  The opposition MDC-T spokesperson, Obert Gutu, said that the incident was indicative of the President’s age and that he must resign.

What cannot be denied however is that the incident is of public interest and all media, no matter their editorial bias, are correct to report it as fact. Even if they differed in the terminology of describing it.

Domestic public reaction is yet to be fully measured but it was always going to be mixed and expressed with immediacy via social media, particularly Whatsapp and Facebook. Some of it reflected the sentiments expressed by the minister of information where acknowledgement is made that anyone can fall. Especially coming down a set of stairs or on a carpet.  

Other responses were that at his age, the President may do well to take it easy and reduce his schedule. 

The more rabid reflected either the opposition MDC-T’s sentiments or vehemently defended the President as a ‘revolutionary leader’.  

Others still expressed serious disdain and disappointment that it should be an issue at all that someone fell.

All of these reactions are understandable and justifiable.  The president however is a public figure and whatever he does or happens to him publicly will be news in the general public interest.  The onus is therefore more on government to explain further and to prove even the most negative of opinions  wrong.

It is however also important to look at the political and social  context in which the incident occurred in order to better explain this mixed reaction to the incident. 

Firstly, speculation about the presidents health is no longer new in Zimbabwe or in the global media.  His spokesperson is on record as saying that the media always does so after the president goes on his annual leave at the end of every year.  Mr. Mugabe himself has also stated publicly that he does not know how many times he has been said to have died.  So this incident has only served to accentuate continued media and public scrutiny of the president’s health at every possible opportunity.

Secondly,  public interest in the President’s everyday actions have been heightened by the dramatic fallout he has had with his former deputy president, Joice Mujuru and her alleged accomplices for  plotting his ouster at congress.  The state media which can safely be argued to have been patently biased against the ousted faction also contributed immensely to this heightened interest.  Where something unexpected as the carpet mishap occurs, the Zimbabwean public would evidently get interested.  Those that are sympathetic to Mujuru would rather refer to it as a fall than a mishap. 

Thirdly, the incident is testament of the rise of the internet and social media in Zimbabwe's political and cultural life.  It has allowed the public quicker access to news and events in a way unseen before. This means that any minuscule public (and sometimes private) political event especially where it concerns leaders in various spheres of life is now the subject of greater public scrutiny.  And it is something that public figures must accept without much trepidation. The general rule is to explain oneself after such said incident goes ‘viral’ on the internet or is picked up by the mainstream media. As opposed to attempting to take away the technology that allowed the public to know a matter in the public interest.   

In the final analysis however, public reactions to the President’s mishap will be better analysed for posterity than the present. The government has said that he is in good health and for now that should be enough.
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

27 March By-Elections: Zanu Pf Factionalism Coming Full Circle.

By Takura Zhangazha*

There are two key Parliamentary by elections scheduled for 27 March 2015 in Chirumanzu-Zibagwe and Mt Darwin West constituencies.    Their ‘outgoing’ seat holders are new vice president and minister of justice, Emerson Mnangagwa and former vice president Joice Mujuru respectively.  And that is precisely what makes them politically intriguing. 

These two have been central players in the current Zanu Pf fallout. As a result, the fact that their seats were declared vacant by President Mugabe last month is significant.  

It is also an act that has raised some constitutional questions and opposition political party outcry alleging that the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) is unprepared to hold the by-elections. These outcries have culminated in the mainstream opposition threatening to challenge the president’s action in court.

The fact of the matter is that the by elections will have to be held in terms of the constitution and the Electoral Act. And that’s where the politics attendant to them becomes significant both for the ruling party and the mainstream opposition.

For Zanu Pf, they are obviously going to be a measurement of how deep rooted the  factional battles are at grassroots.  Especially if the faction of suspended and ‘ousted’ leaders decides to not only field candidates but also lay claim to the party name on the ballot paper. 

It is a risky business but there would be no more a greater statement of intent from the weakened Mujuru camp.  For the latter to contest as Zanu Pf there will be  court challenges and counter challenges especially for the name of the party (as was the case with the opposition MDC in the run up to the 2008 harmonised elections). 

Should they fail to actually institute a legal challenge  or to win an eventual court case, they are again faced with the dilemma of deciding to field candidates regardless.

 This would also entail seeking an overturning of the nomination court process that was recently held on the basis of the lack of an accessible voters roll To all parties.

 Moreso for Mt Darwin West which over the years has been viewed as the former vice presidents stronghold. 

And in that they may have to either chose a new party name for their candidates (highly unlikely) or follow the lead of their interparty rival s and field their candidates as independents.  This with the hope that should they manage to be brought or bring themselves back in the fold, their ‘independent’ candidates will eventually be considered Zanu Pf members of Parliament.

Any decision to not field candidates will be to the great advantage of the Mnangagwa faction. Especially from a grassroots perspective where such a decision will be at odds with claims of popular support by suspended provincial chairpersons.  Add to this the fact that the state media is poised against it, the Mujuru camp will be battered as having been the proverbial owl with no horns.

For the Mngangagwa camp, this is a test of their ability to take control of the party’s election campaign machinery without their former colleagues.  And a test of their organizational capacity to win with a decent margin against those that would claim to be more popular at grassroots level.   Even if they were to win, they cannot afford to win ‘ugly’ because that will return to haunt them in 2018. If they were to lose to their rival camp, they have to lose gracefully in order to be respectable opponents at the next general election. 

The mainstream opposition MDCs  on the other hand are bit part players in these by elections.  Whether they participate, boycott or fail to field candidates.  They would however be well advised to raise the political stakes while they still can against a divided Zanu Pf. That would entail seriously considering and preparing to participate. Not for tokenism but out of an intention to demonstrate their commitment to electoral processes and giving people alternatives, even in difficult circumstances.  That is why they are in Parliament today. 

To declare the electoral environment  not free or unfair is good media and public gallery play.  The only catch is that it is not enough of a political act.  Especially given the evident division in Zanu Pf.  Or even after all along praising the new constitution under which these by-elections are being held.

Come 27 March there will be a bit of political drama for an election weary public.  If the factions in Zanu Pf and the MDCs (and smaller political parties) all participate it will be a potential indicator of what elections in 2018 might look like.  But a lot more is at stake for Zanu Pf and how it manages its electoral campaigns with the new VP and likely presidential successor pitted against the former and perhaps still ambitious former VP. 

*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)