It was after the exploits of Bev and the Sexy Angels that I became fully aware of the existence of the Censorship Board.
Apparently, it is a highly secretive body, not many know who else is part of it except the fabled chairperson, Heya Malaba, 95. But censorship sprawls in all facets of Zimbabwean life.
The censorship board falls under the ministry of Home Affairs and is there “to be the best providers of moral guidance and advisers to the public on entertainment matters in Zimbabwe as provided for in the Censorship and Entertainment Control Act [Chapter 10 : 04].”
Their latest strike was on a foreign film. They recommended that some erotic scenes from the film Fifty Shades of Grey had to be deleted before it was shown in Zimbabwe because they were judged to be indecent to be shown in public. The film an adaptation of EL James novel of the same title was a highly anticipated global box hit.
Dambudzo Marechera remains a classic case. At the dawn of independence his book, Black Sunlight, was banned for alleged obscenities and religious provocations. The ban order was overturned after serious lobbying and appeals from his peer and scholar, Musa Zimunya.
Since then several other writers and artists have been lashed with the whip of censorship over the years including Cont Mhlanga, Raisedon Baya, Chenjerai Hove and more recently Owen Maseko.
I will argue that contemporary literature has become the product of complicity and compromise not just between authors and censors but among everyone in the system, including editors in publishing houses and the media. The participants understand how the system operates. They accept it as a fundamental reality of the world in which they have to find their way.
They can only say so much and hope that their readers will get the message implied by the unsaid or blank spaces without attracting the censors. A new anonymous poetry emerged that defied limitations. Anonymous graffiti scrawled on public walls, security walls, defaced billboards. It evoked laughter and introspection in its brief but very poignant and effective staccato lines. Graffiti became the diary of a country in crisis. In staccato shorthand, the walls told of histories and hatreds.
The problem is that we suffer under the tyranny of deluded “war heroes” who fail to appreciate that their legacy must be preserved in their retirement from public duty, especially as they are evidently at their twilight. No wonder they are paranoid about criticism.
J M Coetzee says “Paranoia is the pathology of insecure regimes and of dictatorships in particular.” This diffusion of paranoia is not inadvertent; it is simply a technique of control. With fear of violence and abductions and sometimes unwarranted murders, everyone suspects each other to be spies and our communities became fragmented webs of mutual suspicions.
The frightening bit is when the paranoia of the state is imprinted on the psyche of the society. The feared mole who could be anyone, and from whom we protect ourselves, is the most efficient gag and has been the most effective institutionalised brain death in Zimbabwe. Censorship is a viral disease afflicting all of us.
And yet the irony as perpetuated by establishment mandarins is that there is freedom to say there is freedom, but just to praise the ruling regime, and never to criticise or challenge. However, this political environment has also been a blessing in disguise as it has encouraged writers to embrace the liberties of the internet to share and distribute their writings to much bigger audiences.
Borders have been easily scaled over. And literature is a fluid that seeps through to every place where there are people willing to dip their toes while reading.