Speaking, Leeroy Gono and Patience Tavengwa, directors of the festival told us this morning how members of the police have said they want to shut them down because they went ahead and held a performance of the controversial play, No Voice No Choice even after the police told them not to do so, along with a number of other events on the festival schedule that the police were not comfortable with.
No Voice No Choice is centred on the theme of how young people can contribute to the development of their communities. It uses drama, dance and music to engage members of the audience and is an emotionally engaging production that hits out at the viewers sense of obligation to those around them.
The play premiered in Harare in October 2011 and has been on tour since August 1, 2012. The tour will take it to Masvingo, Manicaland and Bulawayo and end on September 21. It has also toured South Africa and in Zambia it was performed at the SADC Best of the Best Community Theatre Festival in November 2011 and then at the April International Theatre Festival in April 2012.
In Masvingo, two performances were held in Nyika and Jerera before its scheduled YOCAF performance on August 2. That is where the police came into the picture. Masvingo Central Police tried to stop any further performances, saying the play was a security threat in a letter received by the Tafadzwa Muzondo, writer, director and producer of the play, on the evening of August 1.
“The public performance is not approved due to security reasons,” said the letter from Chief Superintendent J. Nyapfuri – Officer Commanding Masvingo Central District. This was despite the play having all other requisite clearances.
The organisers immediately contacted Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) regional manager Blessing Nyamaropa and managed to get them to intervene. Masvingo Human Rights lawyer Collen Maboke filed an ex-parte application against the police and cited the Zimbabwe Republic Police, Minister of Home Affairs, Commissioner of Zimbabwe Republic Police and the Officer Commanding Masvingo Central as 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th respondents respectively.
Just after midday a provisional order was granted by Masvingo Civil Court Provincial Magistrate in which “respondents were ordered to allow the applicant to perform their theatre play without any disturbances at the scheduled places and times (Mucheke Terminus at 1pm on August 2, Charles Austin Theatre at 8pm on 2 August and Rujeko Hall at 1pm on August 3).
Tafadzwa Muzondo, writer, director and producer of the play told Zimbo Jam that they had written a letter to the police on July 24 notifying them of their performance but only got a response on August 1, the date the tour was supposed to start.
He said, “I believe the police tried to jeopardise our chances of approaching the courts to contest their decision by deliberately delaying their response and only called me just before 5pm to say they had not approved and I think this was calculated at making sure there was no time to seek any legal recourse but fortunately the Zimbabwe Lawyers’ for Human Rights moved quickly to help us defend our freedom of artistic expression.”
Muzondo, now back in Harare, told Zimbo Jam this afternoon, “The funny thing is that when we finally performed the police were there watching and laughing with everyone else.”
At the same time that all this was happening the police were finding problems with other parts of the festival. They expressed discomfort with the theme for this year, “The Power of the Pen,” and wanted to know what it meant. They were also not happy about a youth discussion forum scheduled to take place on August 3 and a performance by the Zimbabwe Poets for Human Rights (ZPHR) scheduled for this afternoon, August 4, 2012.
Leeroy Gono was detained on Thursday and questioned by police for over two hours. He told Zimbo Jam that was released after the police were satisfied with his answers- but they told him not to go ahead with the youth forum and the ZPHR performance.
YOCAF went ahead with all the scheduled activities and the ZPHR performance is still on the cards. That has apparently riled the police who this morning sent word to Gono that “he was in trouble for defying the police and would face the consequences.”
This is the second edition of YOCAF. The festival started last year and its primary target is young people. At the opening ceremony on August 2, over 200 people attended, mainly high school students.