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Musicians Come Out in Support of Zimbabwe Refugees

This week, the Southern Africa regional heads-of-state met for the 27th summit of the Southern African Development Community summit, or SADC, in Zambia’s capital. But on the other side of town, regional artists gathered in solidarity with Zimbabweans affected by political and economic turmoil in their country. Danstan Kaunda has more in this report from Lusaka.

The series of concerts - dubbed ‘Zimbabwe Flight to Freedom’ - were characterized by electrifying live performances of poems, music and traditional dance.

The performers came from Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Among the famous artists in attendance was South African jazz legend, Hugh Masekela.

The artists’ aim was to create awareness about the deteriorating economic situation in Zimbabwe. This they did by sending a message to the regional leaders gathering here that a new Zimbabwe could be on the horizon - if only President Robert Mugabe would leave office.

Sampa Kangwa-Wilkie is with the Media Institute of Southern Africa, which organized the shows.

She criticized the region’s policy of silent diplomacy toward Zimbabwe.

She said, "We are trying to give a musical voice to what is happening in Zimbabwe. I think our [regional] leaders have let us down, and it has become immoral. We are using such events as a way of condemning the human rights violation in that country. "

The two-day event – which cost ten-thousand U.S. dollars -- attracted over 500 Zambians who expressed solidarity with the suffering of Zimbabweans.

The concerts also attracted foreign delegations and other government officers. The money raised will not go to Zimbabwean refugees, but will be used to fund a campaign to pressure regional leaders to demand respect of human rights in Zimbabwe.

Hugh Masekela says Africa has to find lasting and meaningful solutions to its problems.

"It is time," he said, "that we African stood-up and said this is wrong. Ever, if we have to take to the streets [streets demonstrations] to say this is wrong, we will do it. We need our voices to be heard."

Masekela, who’s also a goodwill ambassador to the troubled Darfur region, also called for action from the 14 regional leaders to find a lasting peace in western Sudan.

In Darfur, hundreds of thousands of people have been killed and millions displaced by conflict.

The cultural solidarity event lobbied African governments to take action in Zimbabwe and Darfur.

Kangwe-Wilkie hopes that Africa’s crises will soon come to an end.

"The Zimbabwean situation," he said, "is not something that can be washed away. It is a growing crisis and they must be a way of dealing with it. We [the artists] are now telling our leaders and the people of Southern Africa that we just have to solve the Zimbabwe situation by ourselves. And we should not see the Zimbabwean people who are being displaced as problems but they are people who are just trying to find ways of surviving."

Zimbabwe’s inflation now stands at over four-thousand percent, forcing many of its citizens to flee to neighboring countries like South Africa, Botswana and Zambia.

An estimated two million Zimbabweans are seeking refuge in South Africa alone. There are reports saying that over one-thousand people from Zimbabwe are attempting to cross into Zambia each day – many just looking for food and basic products. Hundreds are also reported to be crossing into Botswana every day.

But many governments don’t grant Zimbabweans refugee status, since they’re not considered to be fleeing political persecution. As a result, Zimbabweans are frequently deported from neighboring countries.