By Owen Maseko
My exhibition, Sibathontisele, opened on 25th March 2010. The next day it was banned and I was arrested. The Inclusive Government had been in power for just over a year.
Sibathontisele profiled the massacre of Ndebele people by the government-spon- sored Fifth Brigade from 1983 until the signing of the Unity Accord in 1987. The bloody campaign was known as Guku- rahundi – ‘the rain that washes away the chaff' in Shona – and was justified by the government as an attempt to control dis- sidents in Matabeleland. However, since an estimated 20,000 people were killed in Matabeleland and the Midlands during this period and numerous other atrocities were committed, there is strong evidence to suggest that this was also a targeted attack on supporters of Joshua Nkomo’s opposition party, ZAPU.
Sibathontisele, which means ‘we drip on them’ in Ndebele and refers to one of the most notorious torture techniques employed by the Fifth Brigade – dripping hot, melted plastic on victims, sought to expose the atrocities, the sufferings and the legacy of Gukurahundi and so support healing and reconciliation.
Gukurahundi had not been publicly discussed since the signing of the Unity Accord but the signing of the Global Politi- cal Agreement (GPA) in 2008 promised a new era of freedom after decades of restrictions. The GPA also sought to initiate a process of national healing, following the widespread violence during the 2008 elections as well as earlier human rights abuses. With the GPA’s commitment to greater openness and the creation of an Organ of National Healing, surely this was the right time for art to address the long suppressed but still burning issue of Gukurahundi?
But when my exhibition opened, the authorities responded quickly. The show was closed down the following day and I was arrested by Central Intelligence Officers and detained for five nights in Bulawayo’s Central Police Station. I was eventually charged with publishing and communicating false statements with the intention of inciting violence, which carries a sentence of twenty years, and also with undermining the authority of the President. With the vital support of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, I filed a pre-trial application for a referral to the Constitutional Court arguing that my constitutional rights to freedom of thought, freedom of conscience and freedom of expression had been fundamentally violated by my arrest and subsequent detention. The magistrate referred the case to the Supreme Court for judgement and we are still waiting for a date to be set for my case to be heard.
And Zimbabweans are still waiting for an opportunity to honestly and openly debate Gukurahundi and start the process of healing.
Read Owen's full article here. And then join the debate