Tourism minister Walter Mzembi has ordered the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA) to “get out of the debate” about the government’s decision to ban South African socialite Zodwa (Wabantu) Libram from taking part at this year’s Harare International Carnival.
the big interview BY EVERSON MUSHAVA
Mzembi told The Standard in an exclusive interview yesterday that cabinet was clear that the South African who has risen to fame after dancing at gigs without underwear would not be allowed to take part in the carnival.
He spoke after ZTA CEO Karikoga Kaseke said he did not understand why Zodwa was banned. Mzembi (WM) told our chief reporter Everson Mushava (EM) that the socialite had become a “pawn in a much complex game.” Below is the full interview.
EM: You seem to have been quiet on the Zodwa Wabantu saga as the substantive minister of Tourism. Do you have any knowledge about her trip and what do you think is happening around her?
WM: Zodwa Wabantu is a “post tortoise”.
She fits the apt description by the old farmer to a doctor stitching him who said in their conversation, “When you are driving down the countryside and you come across a fence post with a tortoise balanced on top, that’s a post tortoise.”
You know she didn’t get up there by herself. She doesn’t belong up there. She doesn’t know what to do while up there.
She is elevated beyond her ability to function, and you just wonder what kind of dumb a** put her up there to begin with.
Zodwa is clearly a pawn in a much more complex game!
EM: So what is the complex game, and how does she fit in the puzzle?
WM: It’s politics stupid!
She knows only one thing— dancing — which she has done before in Zimbabwe to her secular audiences and would not have been an issue until a government agency somehow got involved and that’s where the politics commences!
EM: How, can you expand honourable minister?
WM: Her association, directly or indirectly with the Harare International Carnival, a government-conceived and approved branding and entertainment event, means the government is essentially the stage.
And by the way, stages are very powerful communication platforms and therefore we could not be seen promoting how she brands her dancing through nudity or creating peeping Toms out of her audiences. Government can’t be that big peeping Tom or facilitator of such.
EM: But minister, you are on record saying one of the objectives of the Harare International Carnival is enhancement of the gross national happiness index, a term you coined. What has gone amiss?
WM: Happiness is not equal to immorality, as the Censorship Board has confirmed. Societal excesses, in the realm of nudity and immorality that offend other people, cannot be sanctioned and played on a government stage.
She knows where to go with such stuff even in her own home country and seemingly she has played to audiences that lust for such here with no fuss. No government in the world is in that space.
EM: Minister, having been in the sector for so long and as exposed as you are, are there other government departments and their agencies promoting this? Do you think the ZTA may have crossed the line?
WM: The last local governments to promote similar stuff were the Biblical cities or kingdoms of Sodom and Gomorrah, and it invited God’s wrath!
Ever since Sodom and Gomorrah have been used as metaphors for homosexuality and vice — impenitent sin.
The people who practise such and their audiences never tell you they are not happy with what they do. So happiness extended this far is not licensed in this country.
ZTA is an extension of government and should always seek to get the pulse of central government and it’s agencies on such matters, including the Censorship Board, before plunging into media and the public with such prodigal propositions.
In fact, they must get out of that debate altogether. As minister responsible, I want them out of that debate, so should the entire cabinet as demonstrated by its incisive response to the matter.
EM: So you support then acting Tourism minister Patrick Zhuwao’s decision on Zodwa Wabantu?
WM: It was not his unilateral decision, but a collective decision of cabinet, and am bound by it.
EM: People say the country is faced with a lot of challenges, especially the economy and for the whole cabinet to sit down and discuss the issue of Zodwa and panties showed how petty government can be? What is your response to this?
WM: A Cabinet agenda is a cocktail of many things and we are at liberty to discuss the minutest of issues as long as they are a threat to social cohesion.
Our interest was only invited to the extent that we were seen through the person of the chief executive of the ZTA apologising to Zodwa.
Karikoga Kaseke is part of the government or an extension of it and that statement was not sanctioned by government.
Government has no apology to make to this lady. The chief executive has fully understood this and we have moved on. It’s celebration time.
EM: But there are suggestions that you and Zhuwao are colluding as G40 members against a perceived Lacoste sympathiser, Kaseke. What is your say?
WM: He made his case, including a public apology to Zodwa beamed on the main news bulletin, that is the stage at which government interest was invited.
I wasn’t here myself. I was in Kigali attending to government business, and notwithstanding the characterisation of our political leanings of all the three of us, the best decision in the national interest was taken.
EM: But your fallout with Kaseke is a matter of public concern, could it be playing out in the carnival, including this Zodwa issue? Do you support the carnival?
WM: I don’t only support the carnival, I conceived and founded the Zimbabwe International Carnival together with other players, including the chief executive.
The laws of the land dictate how we relate to each other, and if it succeeds, as it shall, it will be my glory and that of the principal and the government of Zimbabwe.
From time to time I will of course demand compliance in line with my mandate and it should not offend anyone.
So yes, it is the government’s baby, how can I feel otherwise about my baby? The theme itself emphasises love, so we are in that fiesta season.
EM: What implications does the ban on Zodwa have on tourism and our relations with South Africa? How come the government has no problem with samba dancers from Brazil, Cuba and locals like Beverley, Zoey etc?
WM: If you follow social media and commentaries on this Zodwa issue, you will see its links to other unrelated matters, and how xenophobia and reciprocation issues are invoked by haters of sound relations between Zimbabwe and South Africa.
The two liberation movements, ANC and Zanu PF need an intelligent and analytical conversation soon around how some of these characters like Zodwa, (Gabriella) Engels etc are exploited as pawns in a bigger game of distancing the two erstwhile movements and ultimately their governments and agendas, and we have not seen the end of it.
Both liberation movements have serious elective business ahead of them, and must understand these generational affronts better and how to react to them, especially in this social media environment.
Equally, our government agencies must be alert to these machinations and not play into them, sometimes inadvertently and torching unnecessary storms.
So when we correct them, it’s because we see better, and have a helicopter view and political competencies that they may not have or see in their narrow briefs.
Equally, we have very good relations with both Brazil and Cuba and understand their cultural heritage and they are here to endorse our carnival, but you can’t tell me advertising to a nation that I am coming to dance for you without a panty is South African, we know what is authentically South African and constructive entertainment for our people.
The local girls too self-censor when performing in public, we saw them last time.
EM: Your final word as the carnival week commences, and are we going to see you lead as in the past?
WM: Finally, brothers and sisters apostle Paul says in Philipians 4:8, “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things”.
I don’t see where Zodwa Wabantu fits in this, nor the happy Zimbaweans who shall line up the streets to enjoy themselves!
Happy Harare International Carnival to you, but in the spirit of authentic happiness with equity, I would like to see this event happening simultaneously across the country as some celebration of National Happiness Day, redesigned, reformatted to our cultural heritage and ethos. only then, will it make sense to the generality of Zimbabweans.