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Murambatsvina: an artist's interpretation
February 06, 2006
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Zimbabwean artist Josiah Bob Taundi grew up in the townships of
Harare he saw bulldozers as emblems of construction - machines that
came to clear land for building houses and roads. But last year
all this changed. Bulldozers came back to the townships and razed
the very same houses that they had constructed. The Zimbabwean government
called this "clean up", Murambatsvina (Operation
is nicknamed the "Tsunami" by many Zimbabweans. It is
estimated that around 700 000 people were left homeless and without
sources of livelihood after Murambatsvina. Anna Tibaijuka,
the UN Special Envoy, who came to investigate the effects of Murambatsvina
reported that the Zimbabwean government had acted in an "indiscriminate
and unjustified manner" with "indifference to human suffering."
While the urban
demolitions were in full swing across the country, Zimbabwean artist,
Josiah Taundi could not help but see the agony and pain reflected
in the eyes of those that had been affected by Murambatsvina.
In an effort to depict their plight he began to vividly re-construct
Harare’s urban destruction.
In the black
and white painting titled "Boys", Taundi brings out the
emotions of fear, anxiety and apprehensiveness on the faces of children
who watch their homes being demolished.
jovial artist clad in shades and looking like American hip-hop artist
Kanye West, says that he was inspired to capture this scene after
watching the news on national television when riot police armed
to the teeth went to demolish houses in Chitungwiza. And as children,
some in school uniforms, looked on in confusion. - listen
to audio file
Hard" depicts a man sitting outside his home wondering whether
the authorities will consider it legal or not, and whether it will
survive Murambatsvina. The barefooted man sits holding his
head in confusion wondering who might have angered God to this extent
that people were being made homeless.
of Reckoning depicts young entrepreneurs who have had their plumbing
business destroyed. These "indigenous businessmen", one
wearing a ZANU PF t-shirt and the other an opposition MDC t-shirt
walk together as they map out the way forward for the future. This
painting shows that the demolitions did not only affect members
of opposition political parties as some would like to believe. But
that Murambatsvina also affected staunch supporters of the
ruling party, who they had voted into office just a few months earlier.
that one of his paintings that has a lot to tell is called "Does
God Have a Conscience". Taundi said he was trying to put forward
the many questions that people were asking during Murambatsvina.
Why did the demolitions take place in winter? Does God not care
about his subjects or does he simply not have a conscience? Who
is to blame? Is it Mugabe, Bush or Blair?
created a major humanitarian crisis. The South African newspaper,
the Mail & Guardian, described people living in conditions that
were 'worse than animals'. In the painting "Relief" Taundi
depicts people accepting food handouts from the donor community
while the police closely monitor the proceedings.- listen
to audio file
of life post Murambatsvina says a lot about day-to-day life
in Zimbabwe. In ‘"Water Crisis" the ongoing water shortages
in the capital city are well illustrated. "It is unfortunate
for some reason, it’s history being told that in Harare people have
almost reduced themselves to what we used to do in the villages.
Carrying water using buckets. The artists adds that "unfortunately
the water in the urban areas isn’t even fit to drink."
The fuel crisis
comes up in one of the paintings called "The Wait". Taundi
said this picture is about people that have been waiting for hours
at a bus stop. This is a comment on Zimbabwe’s severe fuel crisis,
which has disrupted transport services, as well as making the cost
of transport exorbitant. According to Taundi, the people who are
waiting cannot change their way of life. "They are powerless
and powerless people cannot do anything but wait for change",
the artist says.
amidst the ongoing Zimbabwean crisis, there is joy in the painting
entitled "Time to rock". The artist says that there are
people who have made so much money during these desperate times
that they are the ones who have time to rock – time to have a party
and a good time. He reckons that if Michael Jackson came to Zimbabwe
today that there are people who could afford to go to his show.
But Taundi insists that people should find time to rock even with
the few resources that they have got. He said people who are sitting
and hoping things will be ok might not live to see that day so they
should "Rock!" - listen
to audio file
One of the major
issues that bothered Taundi during Murambatsvina was the
way in which people seemed to rejoice when houses belonging to war
veterans were destroyed. And the cheers on national television when
people were asked to comment on Murambatsvina going to the
low-density areas, which, until then, had not been targeted. The
artist said two wrongs did not make a right and compared such a
scenario to someone whose daughter has been raped and when they
hear that their neighbour’s daughter has been raped, they say it
is fine. He argues that a bad act is a bad act no matter who is
carefully and sensitively reconstructs the demolition of houses
in Harare and at the same time makes a clear representation of the
actual events that took place in Zimbabwe during Murambatsvina.
Taundi who is
currently a media research officer with a local NGO, began painting
while he was at school. He is also a graphic artist and an Illustrator
and has illustrated the award winning Zimbabwean children’s book
called The Dream of Stones written by Chief Masimba K. Biriwasha.
The artist who holds a political science degree says he has not
formally studied art but intends to do so in the near future.
A person of
many interests and talents, Taundi has also set up a clothing label
called "The Sun Afro-Designs" which, as the name implies,
is about African art.
The Harare based
artist can be contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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