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

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Srebrenica Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs countermeasure at UN More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants 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.
Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prisoni
X
Heather Murdock
July 01, 2015 8:59 PM
As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Nubians in Kenya Face Land Challenges

East Africa's ethnic Nubians have a rich cultural history that dates back thousands of years, but in Kenya they are facing hardships, including the loss of lands they have lived on for generations. They say the government has reneged on its pledge to award them title deeds for the plots. VOA's Lenny Ruvaga reports.
Video

Video Military Experts Question New Russian Tank Capabilities

Russia has been showing off its new tank design – the Armata T-14. Designers claim it is 20 years ahead of current Western designs - and driving it feels like playing a computer game. But military analysts question those assertions, and warn the cost could be too heavy a burden for Russia’s struggling economy. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs