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Looking into the future: Art and law in Zimbabwe - The 2010 Lozikeyi Lecture
David Coltart
October 29, 2010

The Lozikeyi Lecture now in its thirteenth year has been graced by the likes of Professor Terence Ranger (1998), Professor Welshman Ncube (1999), Marieke Faber Clarke (2000) Pathisa Nyathi (2001) and many other academics. Queen Lozikeyi was one of King Lobengula's senior wives. A conspicuous and commanding figure, she was a big, bold and beautiful woman of ample proportions and clearly the leading spirit among the Ndebele queens. With a quick intelligence and ready wit she was also remarkable among Ndebele women. After King Lobengula's disappearance, she remained a power in the land and took it upon herself to speak for the Ndebele people.

During the 1896 Uprisings, she was consulted by the Ndebele Chiefs as a woman of considerable importance and large measure of political influence and is said to have supplied the impis with guns from Lobengula's armoury. She was a contributor to the welfare of the local people; a talker and a storyteller; a giver of gifts and a receiver of tributes. It is with great honour of this courageous and yet humble and kind royal lady who once graced this land with her royal presence that the National Gallery in Bulawayo has named this series of lectures on regional history, art, culture and identity after the Great Indlovukazi.


The artistic field is one of the most important areas of liberated and investigative thought, a bastion of an expressive cultural identity, the most communal in outreach; bold, entertaining, and intelligent. Any Nation which does not uphold such ideals and avenues, risks producing a people stultified, numb and unquestioning. It is the role of art to intervene in every society, to make conscious in the most intimate mode of our senses. Nothing could be more precious or urgent in the evolution of a nation.

Art as well plays a vital role in defining a Nation; in giving it an identity, a history, a present, a future. It can also be balm for a Nation; it can heal and bond a Nation; it can enable it to recover from trauma and live again. For it can interpret hard times and reconcile us all to them and to each other. Pablo Picasso once said:

"We all know that Art is not truth. Art is a lie that makes us realise truth".

In similar vein the Irish poet W.B. Yeats in his poem ‘Ego Dominus Tuus' wrote:

"The rhetorician would deceive his neighbours, the sentimentalist himself; while art is but a vision of reality".

In other words because Art is not actual reality it can usher reality in and help us deal with it in a moderated or graduated way - which in turn helps us individually and nationally to grapple with our past and current failings and successes in a palatable manner.

Zimbabwe is a nation with a bloody history; a history which has been littered for decades with serious human rights violations, violence, abuse of power, racial and ethnic discrimination. For the first 90 years post Zimbabwe's colonisation black Zimbabweans were discriminated against because of their race and serious human rights abuses were perpetrated against them by successive white minority governments. The first 30 years post independence have been marked by serious and consistent human rights abuses including a politicide, if not genocide, which occurred in the mid 1980s in the South West of the country. In other words Zimbabwe has had a lot of psychological and physical trauma to deal with as a nation and Art has a critical role to play as we delve beyond subjective interpretations of history and begin to realise the truth of our past. As Yeats wrote - through art we get a mere "vision of reality", but nonetheless and importantly a vision which is not reality itself but an objective truth about that reality.

Jesus Christ when being tried by Pontius Pilate said "And you will know the truth, and the truth shall make you free". Those words apply to us as individuals but also to Nations. For it is only when Nations grapple with their past, in its reality, not as a biased fiction, that they can start to deal with that past, learn from it and through that educative process build stronger foundations for the future. It is in this context that Art has a critically important role to play in the development of Nations. For through Art comes that "realisation of truth" and that "vision of reality" which enables us to get past the very first hurdle of acknowledging our past. And it is only when we have truly acknowledged and accepted our past that we can "Look into the future" in a constructive and positive way. Because if we dare look to the future without understanding our past then we are doomed to repeat our failures of the past.

The clash between Art and Law

This year has been a traumatic year for the National Arts Gallery in Bulawayo because it has been the focus of a clash between certain arms of Government and Art. The exhibition by Owen Maseko entitled Sibathontisele, regarding the Gukurahundi, has opened a can of worms. Shortly after the exhibition opened both Owen Maseko and the Director of the Gallery Voti Thebe were arrested. Subsequently the exhibition itself has was banned and Owen Maseko still faces very serious charges. At the same time the sculpture ‘Looking Into The Future', of a nude man, which has the Bulawayo public has enjoyed for some 16 years, was also banned. In short that "vision of reality", that "realisation of truth" that both these works of Art constitute is now being subjected to scrutiny and challenge by certain elements of Government and in the process I fear that an attempt to grapple with our past in a palatable manner is being derailed, with potentially fearsome consequences.

Our current Constitution enshrines the rights of Artists in two key clauses. Firstly we have the right of freedom of conscience.

Section 19 Protection of freedom of conscience

(1) Except with his own consent or by way of parental discipline, no person shall be hindered in the enjoyment of his freedom of conscience, that is to say, freedom of thought and of religion, freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, whether alone or in community with others, and whether in public or in private, to manifest and propagate his religion or belief through worship, teaching, practice and observance.

That right is not absolute and is subject to the proviso in subsection (5):

(5) Nothing contained in or done under the authority of any law shall be held to be in contravention of subsection (1) or (3) to the extent that the law in question makes provision—

(a) in the interests of defence, public safety, public order, public morality or public health;

(b) for the purpose of protecting the rights and freedoms of other persons, including the right to observe and practise any religion or belief without the unsolicited intervention of persons professing any other religion or belief;

Secondly we have the right of freedom of expression.

20 Protection of freedom of expression

(1) Except with his own consent or by way of parental discipline, no person shall be hindered in the enjoyment of his freedom of expression, that is to say, freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference, and freedom from interference with his correspondence.

That right also is not absolute and is subject to the provisos in subsection (2), for example:

(2) Nothing contained in or done under the authority of any law shall be held to be in contravention of subsection

(1) to the extent that the law in question makes provision—

(a) in the interests of defence, public safety, public order, the economic interests of the State, public morality or public health;

(b) for the purpose of—

(i) protecting the reputations, rights and freedoms of other persons or the private lives of persons concerned in legal proceedings;

(ii) preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence;

(iii) maintaining the authority and independence of the courts or tribunals or the Senate or the House of Assembly;

In other words the Constitution enshrines the rights of Artists to create works of art at their pleasure so long as they do not affect, amongst other things, public order, public morality and the reputations of others. This is the great interchange between artistic freedom and law in Zimbabwe. I do not this evening have the time to delve into the intricacies of the boundaries of these respective rights and laws and of course these boundaries vary greatly from Nation to Nation and have been interpreted greatly by different Judges over time.

Suffice it to say that two different sets of laws have been used to curtail these fundamental rights of freedom of conscience and expression in Zimbabwe. In the case of Owen Maseko security legislation (based on notions of public defence, safety and order) have been invoked to proscribe his art. In the case of the sculpture "Looking to the future" the notion of "public morality" has been invoked to ban that piece of art. I will need to look at the two actions separately.

Owen Maseko

The case involving Owen Maseko is sub judice so I cannot comment directly on that case and will have to confine myself to more general comments about the use of security legislation to restrict politically critical works of art.

Let me say at the outset that nowhere in the world do artists have completely unrestricted or unfettered freedom to produce works of art which are politically controversial. For example works of art which incite violence or hatred against racial, religious or ethnic groups are banned. In Germany artistic works which for example deny the reality of the holocaust are illegal. Likewise any work of art that seeks to glorify or justify the holocaust would be illegal. The boundary of these laws is subjective and varies greatly from country to country but all countries have some restrictions.

However art works which are sombre and accurate visions of reality or which help nations to realise the truth of their past are not just allowed but are revered. For example the Holocaust Memorial near the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin is not a pretty work of art. It is in many respects ugly - a rambling, chaotic assembly of concrete blocks which in many ways is at variance with the glorious architecture which surrounds it. It is surrounded by beautiful parks and historic buildings such as the German parliament and the Brandenburg Gate itself. It is also obtrusive and large and in one's face - it is impossible to ignore it. But it is a necessary work of art - a stark reminder of a terrible past which no-one should ever forget.

There are other terrible things that have happened in Zimbabwe - for example the Nyadzonia massacre which took place on the 9th August 1976 was one of the darkest days of our history when well over 1000 Zimbabweans were killed or wounded on a single day. Should works of art which present a "vision of reality" or which realise the truth of what happened that terrible day be banned? The same applies to artistic works which graphically portray the horrors of apartheid. Internationally the same applies to films such as Saving Private Ryan and The Deer Hunter which do not glorify war and display it in all its horror and gore. Films like this take away all the glamour and gloss of war. The world is a better place for it because they act as a deterrent for future generations who otherwise would not have the slightest inkling of the reality of war.

Surely that is a principle that we need to uphold in Zimbabwe? The danger of burying reality is that we then do not confront it and learn from it. There must be a danger that if we frustrate these forms of expression that the anger that certain communities have will remain bottled up, only to fester and explode later. In doing so any hope of building reconciliation is lost.

I personally feel that it is a shame that we have never been able to deal with the reality of what happened in our nation in the 1970s through a truth, justice and reconciliation process. The white community has never had to confront the excesses and gross human rights violations of the Rhodesian Front war machine and the fundamental injustices of white minority rule and I think that the white community is all the poorer for it. I confine my comments specifically as a white Zimbabwean but the same applies to all racial groups in Zimbabwe. It is the great dilemma all citizens of our Nation have as we grapple with our bloody past. We pretend as if it didn't happen; we run away from it and bury it.

The challenge for all of us is what we are to do with our past. Are we prepared to learn from it or are we determined to bury it and run the risk of repeating the shocking mistakes of the past. Whether we like it or not the past did happen and we need gentle means to deal with it.

It is in this context that Art has a vital role to play in reconciliation. For it can introduce us to our collective past in a relatively gentle way. It can introduce "visions of reality" and help us all as we "realise truth" and with that the mistakes we have made.

The tragedy of simply banning politically controversial art is that we then never get the opportunity to debate it and learn from it. Ironically by taking a step further and prosecuting an artist one stands the risk of further inflaming a sensitive issue and thus retarding any hope of reconciling communities.

In conclusion my belief is that art should only be banned on the grounds of public security when works of art are gratuitously inflammatory and not by any stretch of the imagination "visions of reality" but rather "visions of unreality or untruths". Even then I believe that Artists should only be prosecuted when they are guilty of repeated and deliberate attempts to subvert truth with the intention of stirring up racial, ethnic or religious enmity or hatred.

"Looking to the Future"

The banning by the Censorship Board of the nude sculpture "Looking to the Future" is fortunately not sub judice so I can direct my comments more squarely in that regard.

I know the statue well and I believe that its banning is not only ridiculous but also a violation of our fundamental constitutional rights. The statue is not promiscuous or suggestive in any way - it is simply an interpretation of the male human body. It is also of course a fine work of art and we can be justly proud that a Bulawayo citizen is responsible for it.

I use the word ridiculous because the banning will subject us to international ridicule. For example would we in Zimbabwe ban the statue of David? "David" is the masterpiece of Renaissance sculpture created between 1501 and 1504, by the Italian artist Michelangelo. It is a 5.17 metre (17 feet) marble statue of a standing male nude. The statue represents the biblical hero David, a favoured subject in the art of Florence. Originally commissioned as one of a series to be positioned high up on the facade of Florence Cathedral, the statue was instead placed in a public square, outside the Palazzo della Signoria, the seat of civic government in Florence, where it was unveiled on 8 September 1504. Because of the nature of the hero that it represented, it soon came to symbolise the defence of civil liberties embodied in the Florentine Republic, an independent city-state threatened on all sides by more powerful rival states.

The point is simply that our own "Looking to the future" is no more promiscuous or suggestive than "David", indeed if anything "David" is far more detailed and graphic. The banning of "Looking to the future" potentially makes us the subject on international ridicule, and by that I include the rest of Africa.

We also need to ask ourselves the question of where this banning order takes us. Does it means for example that all classical paintings of nude subjects are now to be considered against "public morality"? Should they all be banned and the books containing them destroyed? Where does this end up - are we to ban anatomy classes in medical schools?

I suggest that this is patently ridiculous and that the Censorship Board knows this. It is my belief that this banning was simply a foil - designed to divert attention away from the political banning of Owen Maseko's works which has nothing to do with the maintenance public morality. In short my view is that the banning of "Looking to the future" was solely designed to give the politically motivated banning a veneer of moral respectability. It was designed to cast the National Art Gallery as some sort of illicit, immoral organisation which of course it is not.

As a member of the Cabinet responsible for this banning I cannot say in this forum what should be done about this. Suffice it to say that as Minister of Arts and Culture I do not support the banning and believe that it constitutes a fundamental and serious breach of artistic freedom as enshrined in the Constitution.


Zimbabwe is blessed by having a wide array of supremely talented artists. If these are artists are allowed to give full vent to their talents I have no doubt that they will not only help heal our nation but will also assist us in the serious challenge we face of rebranding Zimbabwe in a more positive light. For Zimbabwe is not a country of gloom and doom; it is as we know a country filled with amazing, courageous and wonderful people. Our artists are some of our greatest nation assets and I hope that during my tenure in office I can do all things possible to promote them both domestically and internationally.

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