News / Africa

Blow to Artists as Zimbabwe Center Closes

A poster announcing year-end events at Harare's Mannenberg Performing Arts Center in Zimbabwe
A poster announcing year-end events at Harare's Mannenberg Performing Arts Center in Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe’s most enduring arts center is holding a party and cultural festival as it closes its doors in Harare for the last time in the early hours of January 1. Twin venues, The Book Café and Mannenberg Performing Arts Center have hosted tens of thousands of people and shows with many local and international artists but the landlords gave notice that they want the building in central Harare back to expand retail trade.

Founder of the arts center Paul Brickhill said he was shocked when the landlord, Old Mutual Zimbabwe, told him that he could not renew the lease for The Book Café and Mannenberg Performing Arts Center. He and colleagues who fought to end white rule in Rhodesia began to promote free expression by opening a book shop shortly after 1980 independence.

“I and a number of other people had just come from the liberation struggle. Just before independence, discussions took place around how to address the problem of censorship and propaganda that the Rhodesians had implemented," said Brickhill. "And the answer was to open a progressive bookshop and I was deployed fairly early on, our principal from the very beginning to secure freedom of expression in the new Zimbabwe.”

He and the bookshop, funded by his comrades from the liberation war, were immediately in trouble when it launched a biography of the first post independence opposition leader Joshua Nkomo. Brickhill and his staff were arrested.

Tensions escalated for Brickhill and the bookshop as then prime minister Robert Mugabe sent in North Korean-trained troops who killed thousands of Mr. Nkomo’s supporters in the Matabeleland provinces shortly after independence.

Brickhill said the bookshop had a huge collection of anti-apartheid books which were banned in neighboring South Africa and many made their way across the border.

In 1987 a South African hit squad bombed several targets in Harare. On their list, as court records revealed, was Brickhill’s bookshop. Several people were killed and Brickhill’s brother was seriously injured.

Three years before the present ongoing political crisis began in 2000, Brickhill and colleagues expanded the bookshop into a café and performing art center called Mannenberg, named after the composition by legendary South African jazz pianist, Dollar Brand, who is now known as Abdullah Ibrahim.

He played Mannenberg at its opening in Harare and said he had loaned the music to Zimbabweans.

A poster announcing events at the Mannenberg Performing Arts Center in Harare, Zimbabwe before news that the center will be closing
A poster announcing events at the Mannenberg Performing Arts Center in Harare, Zimbabwe before news that the center will be closing

Among the Zimbabwe artists who play at Mannenberg is Zimbabwe musician Chiwoniso Maraire, who sings and plays the traditional instrument the mbira. She says Zimbabwe’s artists have a responsibility to society, even when those artists are threatened and arrested.

“We have a responsibility, we are not bankers, we are not doctors, we have another part that we play in society," said Chiwoniso. "Regardless whether the system says we are going to arrest you, it doesn’t matter, we have a responsibility.”

Brickhill, who runs the twin venues with a staff of 45 says he had no idea at the time independence was gained that one of the goals of the liberation war - free expression - would be so difficult to achieve after the end of minority white rule.

“It has been an incredibly long journey and a tough one, and a long, long struggle," said Brickhill. "I must say never in my wildest dreams as a young romantic in newly independent Zimbabwe could I have imagined such a journey and such battles and struggles for such a simple goal of freedom of expression in our country.”

He said that most artists at the venues did not support particular political parties. Book Café’s last guest was Morgan Tsvangirai, Movement for Democratic Change leader and Zimbabwe’s prime minister in the current difficult, inclusive government with Mr. Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party and the smaller MDC.

Zimbabwe's Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai (L) attends a session at Parliament in Harare (File)
Zimbabwe's Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai (L) attends a session at Parliament in Harare (File)

Mr. Tsvangirai launched his controversial book "At the deep end" before Christmas.

“I am telling this story in my own eyes, and especially given the larger power struggles we took part in now and for more than a century - our desire simply to be human against all odds,” said Tsvangirai.

Brickhill says the end of the present crisis is drawing closer and the number of artists grew as it intensified. He says Zimbabwe’s artists find that, despite all the threats, they do have power.

“And yes I do think we are closer now," Brickhill said. "I never imagined the battle would be so hard. But yes we are close. We have power actually. We are not powerless.”

Many Zimbabweans and beyond have appealed to Zimbabwe traders OK Bazaars and landlord Old Mutual to extend the leases for Book Café and Manneberg.

Brickhill says he and colleagues will start the new year trying to find an alternative building.

You May Like

Video VOA EXCLUSIVE: Iraq President Vows to Fight IS 'Until They Are Killed or We Die'

In wide-ranging interview with VOA Persian service reporter, Fuad Masum describes conflict as new type of fight that will take time to win More

Video Russian Anti-Corruption Campaigner Slams Putin’s Crackdown on Dissent

In interview with VOA Alexei Navalny says he believes new law against 'undesirable NGOs' part of move to keep Russian president in power More

Video On The Scene: In Ethiopia, 'Are You a Journalist?' Is a Loaded Question

VOA's Anita Powell describes the difficulties faced by reporters in fully conveying the story in a country where people are reticent to share their true opinions More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Expelled from Pakistan, Afghan Refugees Return to Increased Hardshipi
X
Ayesha Tanzeem
May 28, 2015 6:48 PM
Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Expelled from Pakistan, Afghan Refugees Return to Increased Hardship

Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Britain Makes Controversial Move to Crack Down on Extremism

Britain is moving to tighten controls on extremist rhetoric, even when it does not incite violence or hatred -- a move that some are concerned might unduly restrict basic freedoms. It is an issue many countries are grappling with as extremist groups gain power in the Middle East, fueled in part by donations and fighters from the West. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video Floodwaters Recede in Houston, but Rain Continues

Many parts of Texas are recovering from one of the worst natural disasters to hit the southwestern state. Heavy rains on Monday and early Tuesday caused rivers to swell in eastern and central Texas, washing away homes and killing at least 13 people. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, floodwaters are receding slowly in the country's fourth-largest city, and there likely is to be more rain in the coming days.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Al-Shabab Recruitment Drive Still on In Kenya

The al-Shabab militants that have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families disconsolate. Mohammed Yusuf recently visited the Kenyan town of Isiolo, and met with relatives of those recruited, as well as a many who have helped with the recruiting.
Video

Video US Voters Seek Answers From Presidential Candidates on IS Gains

The growth of the Islamic State militant group in Iraq and Syria comes as the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign kicks off in the Midwest state of Iowa.   As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, voters want to know how the candidates would handle recent militant gains in the Middle East.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Film Festival Looks at Indigenous Peoples, Culture Conflict

A recent Los Angeles film festival highlighted the plight of people caught between two cultures. Mike O'Sullivan has more on the the Garifuna International Film Festival, a Los Angeles forum created by a woman from Central America who wants the world to know more about her culture.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.

VOA Blogs