The time is now to propel human rights through arts, culture and heritage
The Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum (the Forum), the Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (SAHRDN) and Magamba Network join the continent in celebrating Africa Day. This day is dedicated to commemorating and celebrating the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), which was established on 25 May 1963, and transformed into the African Union (AU) in 2001. This year’s theme is Arts, Culture and Heritage: Levers for Building Africa We Want.
The Africa Day theme for 2021 is a declaration for Africa to invest more resources in promoting national and regional social cohesion by investing in African culture and heritage as a vehicle for promoting the national economic and social development goals outlined in Africa’s Agenda 2063. It also highlights the dire need to invest in the arts industry and encourages artists to speak on human rights issues through art. On the contrary, in Zimbabwe artists are afraid to speak up against the State, dreading retribution, abduction, and assault. In January 2019, musician Obey Makamure’s (Tocky Vibes) pregnant wife and manager were assaulted by soldiers after the musician released a song that spoke out against state-sponsored torture. Similarly, in August 2019, comedian Samantha “Gonyeti” Kureya, whose skits and videos present satirical criticisms of the Government and its policies, was abducted, tortured and inhumanely treated. Again, in October 2019, ZimDancehall artist Platinum Prince was abducted and assaulted for releasing a song in which he criticised the President. This goes against this year’s theme, which seeks to promote arts and culture as voices for the voiceless.
Not only is the arts industry under attack in Zimbabwe, but the Government has also launched an onslaught against the rights of citizens. The culture and heritage of citizens are systematically eroded in areas like Chilonga, and Dinde situated in Hwange where the State is set to displace thousands of people to benefit the elite. It is sad to note that whilst the African continent is celebrating culture and tradition as building blocks for economic development, authorities in Zimbabwe are working overtime to destroy sacred cultural burial sites and shrines to pave the way for businesses without remorse.
The State has sharply departed from the tenets of constitutionalism and the values of Ubuntu. On the democracy front, the independence of the judiciary remains in question, particularly based on the increasing cases of pretrial detention and the denial of bail for opposition party supporters and human rights defenders.
In view of the foregoing, the Forum, SAHRDN and Magamba Network note with concern the deliberate desecration of the traditional arts, culture, and Zimbabwe’s heritage. Of major concern is the systematic erosion of dignity through gross human rights violations for political expediency. These issues are at the core of Zimbabwe’s problems as they constitute a significant violation of our African principles of Ubuntu. The Forum, SAHRDN and Magamba Network implore the Government of Zimbabwe to invest in Arts, Culture and Heritage to empower citizens and ensure that human rights are protected, promoted, and respected.