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Zimbabwean Producer Reacts to Ban of  Satirical Play  <i>Super Patriots and Morons</i> - 2004-05-13

After hundreds of performances, Zimbabwean authorities have banned a satirical play about an unnamed country going down the drain economically. They gave no explanation, but for the producer of the play, the reasons are political. In Harare, Tendai Maphosa spoke to the producer of the play, "Super Patriots and Morons."

Super Patriots and Morons made its debut in Harare in early 2003. The play is set in an unnamed African country beset by chronic shortages, long lines of people waiting to buy basic commodities and a thriving black market.

The Zimbabwe Board of Censors gave no reason for banning the play, but many people think the reason is that it struck too close to home.

The producer of Super Patriots and Morons, Daves Guzha, also plays the president of the fictitious country. He says, while Zimbabwe may fit the description of the country depicted in the play, it was never his intention to make a political statement, or to criticize the government.

"What we have done is, we have come up with issues that relate to the people and that is the artist's primary job," he said. "You go in, and you identify issues that you believe will make any good production."

The play did not attract the authorities' attention, until the annual Harare International Festival of the Arts, held earlier this month, when the censors asked for its script. It was allowed to run for what could be the last two shows, and then it was shut down.

The notice the Censorship Board served on Rooftop, Guzha's production company, says the play was being banned under Zimbabwe's entertainment censorship law.

The producer says the government's lack of explanation invites speculation about the banning.

"In terms of the act itself that they have evoked, if a play destabilizes peace and harmony, or if the play is, or if the play is immoral, which I am sure means something to do with pornography, which in this particular case Super Patriots and Morons is not about that; and it also talks about alcohol or usage of drugs," he said.

So we are a bit more inclined to think they could have made that decision based on peace, destabilization of peace and harmony, which we are failing to understand where this destabilization should come into effect now, when it has already had over 500 performances.

The banning of the play, which is the first in the country's history, is the latest in what is widely seen as the Zimbabwe government's growing hostility to the freedom of expression and intolerance of dissenting voices.

Last year, the authorities shut down the country's biggest selling daily newspaper, The Daily News, for failing to register with a government appointed commission. The newspaper was a frequent critic of President Robert Mugabe and his policies.

Mr. Guzha said Rooftop is considering whether to appeal the censorship board's decision. In the meantime, he said, he is planning to take the show abroad.