News / Africa

Zimbabwe Government Bans 'Offensive' Paintings

"Signing the unity accord:" In 1987, after years of violence against supporters, Joshua Nkomo (Zimbabwe African People�s Union, ZAPU) signed an accord for a unity government with Mr Mugabe.  Maseko depicts this moment with blood pouring onto Nkomo's cowed
"Signing the unity accord:" In 1987, after years of violence against supporters, Joshua Nkomo (Zimbabwe African People�s Union, ZAPU) signed an accord for a unity government with Mr Mugabe. Maseko depicts this moment with blood pouring onto Nkomo's cowed

In a rare act of censorship, Zimbabwe's inclusive government has banned artwork by Bulawayo-based artist Owen Maseko that depicts violent political upheavals more than 25 years ago.  

A special government order was issued in Harare late Friday banning art works by Owen Maseko, briefly seen by the public last march in the main art gallery in Bulawayo.

The artworks, some of them huge murals, concentrated on political violence in the two Matabeleland provinces in the 1980's aimed at the opposition of that time, the Zimbabwe African People's Union led by the late nationalist Joshua Nkomo.

President Robert Mugabe sent a brigade of North Korean-trained soldiers into rural areas in the two Matabeleland provinces.  Few outside those areas knew about this terror campaign, South African and British journalists exposed the atrocities in 1983.

Human rights activists investigated and produced a detailed report years later called "Breaking the Silence", which said about 20,000 people, mostly ZAPU supporters from the minority Ndebele tribe, were killed.

President Mugabe has never made an apology for the campaign, but once described it as an "act of madness."

Maseko's most striking picture is his depiction of a unity accord Nkomo signed with Mr. Mugabe in 1987 that ended the violence, but also brought an end to ZAPU, which had fought the war to end white minority rule alongside Mugabe-led forces.

"Flushing the votes:" Maseko's cynical view of elections in Zimbabwe, 30 Aug 2010
"Flushing the votes:" Maseko's cynical view of elections in Zimbabwe, 30 Aug 2010

Another painting of Maseko's view of Zimbabwe elections shows people putting their ballot papers into a flushing toilet.

The government order banning the paintings came from the Home Affairs Ministry under the Censorship and Entertainment Control Act.  The ministry is jointly controlled in the 18-month-old unity government by ministers loyal to Mr. Mugabe and to Movement for Democratic Change leader Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.  

The censorship authority says the artworks, which it described as 'offensive" are also "tribal."  The authority also complained that among the art on display at the Bulawayo Gallery in March was a picture of nude man with exposed genitals.

Veteran political analyst Brian Raftopoulos says censorship is not widely used in Zimbabwe, because people have little access to books.  He also says Zimbabweans practice a degree of self censorship through their fear of the state.

Shortly after the gallery opening, police stormed the building, which has large windows at street level, covered the art works with newspaper, and arrested Maseko.

He was charged under laws that penalize anyone seen to "insult" or "demean" the authority of the president.

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