Satirical Plays Attacked and Banned
International PEN strongly protests attacks against the cast and crew of the satirical play The Crocodile of Zambezi, and its banning by the police, in Bulawayo in May 2008. According to PEN’s sources, production manager Lionel Nkosi was tortured and threatened with death, and actor Aleck Zulu was beaten by police. PEN believes that the attacks, in the context of the targeting and banning of other critical plays, indicate a threat to the entire company of The Crocodile of Zambezi, particularly the authors. PEN is deeply concerned for the safety of playwrights and all others associated with such plays in Zimbabwe, and calls on the authorities to respect their rights to freedom of expression and to cease attacks against them.
On the afternoon of May 29, 2008, police officers came to City Hall in Bulawayo, where rehearsals for the second performance of The Crocodile of Zambezi were under way. Nkosi and Zulu were taken to the central police station and told that the play could not continue. The police reportedly stated that they had been told to "censor or stop any suspicious performances." Nkosi and Zulu agreed to stop the show, returned to City Hall, and packed up.
They were then stopped by four men in a car parked outside, unmarked and without registration plates, who asked Nkosi to get in. He was driven to an isolated location, where the men questioned him about the play and its backers, accusing them of ridiculing President Mugabe. According to Nkosi, the men threatened to kill him, then placed a sack over his head and beat him severely, at one point shoving a gun into his mouth. The attack left him covered in blood and with a fractured ankle, bruised ribs and gums, and a loose tooth. According to some reports, Nkosi’s assailants were members of the secret service.
These attacks are part of a crackdown on freedom of expression and other rights in Zimbabwe prior to the presidential election run-off scheduled for June 27. Other satirical plays about Zimbabwe’s political situation have also been banned and there have been numerous attacks on the press.
The Crocodile of Zambezi, set in a fictional country along the Zambezi River, is a satire of the Mugabe regime and is the result of a two-year collaboration between playwrights Raisedon Baya and Chrisopher Mlalazi. The play’s central character is the country's aging leader who faces personal and political crises. The play opened on May 28, despite the fact that newspaper advertisements that the company paid for were never published. The play was reportedly well received, but due to the ban, it closed after only one performance.
Another satirical play about Zimbabwe’s political situation, Sahwira (Spirit of Friendship) by Elton Mjanana, which was being staged in Harare, was also banned in May. This play, based on Zimbabwe’s controversial land-reform movement, features graphic scenes of torture and killings. The reason given for the ban was that the police had not been given advance notice.
In 2007, the police reportedly banned a number of plays on the grounds that they were in violation of the Public Order and Security Act and the Censorship and Control of Entertainment Act, including Baya’s Everyday Solider and The Good President by Cont Mhlanga.
Write A Letter
- protesting the attacks on Lionel Nkosi and Aleck Zulu of the company of The Crocodile of Zambezi, the banning of the play after just one performance, and the recent targeting and banning of other critical plays;
- expressing deep concern for the safety of playwrights and all others associated with such plays;
- calling on the authorities to respect their rights to freedom of expression and to cease all attacks against them.
Send Your Letter To
Minister of Education, Sports and Culture
Mr. Cde Aeneas Chigwedere
Ministry of Education, Sports and Culture
Head Office, Union Avenue, P. O. Box CY 121, Causeway
Fax: +263 4 734 075
Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression in Africa
Commissioner Faith Pansy Tlakula
African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights
48 Kairaba Avenue, P. O. Box 673
Banjul, The Gambia
Fax: +220 439076
Please send also appeals to diplomatic representatives of Zimbabwe in your country.
Volunteers may also consider writing letters to their national newspapers, particularly the arts and culture sections, expressing concern about events in Zimbabwe, and highlighting the attacks against the cast and crew of The Crocodile of Zambezi and the targeting of other plays as examples of the rising repression of writers in the country.
Please take action as soon as possible. Check with PEN if sending appeals after July 19, 2008: ftw [at] pen.org