Lara de Matos

What came first – the chicken or Mugabe? While such comments do carry the scent of the satirical, Zimbabwe’s refusal to allow Freshlyground entry into the country this week was far from funny.

Government puppets – pardon me, officials – declared the reason for denying the group entry stemmed from the falsehood – sorry, fact – that they did not possess the required work permits.

Odd, considering the Afro-pop ensemble was headed to our northern brother at the invitation of the Harare International Festival of the Arts (Hifa), which denotes that Hifa and its affiliates would have surely seen to all the necessary paperwork.

Equally odd that a host of other artists from as far afield as the DRC, Côte d’Ivoire, Spain, the Netherlands and the US encountered no such bureaucratic red tape.

But, nay, the band’s anthem Chicken to Change had absolutely no bearing on this latest snub, we’re told. That it was this very song which first saw Freshlyground turned back at the metaphorical gates in 2010 (never to return until this latest attempt), because of its mockery of Mugabe for refusing to relinquish power, is also a case of mere coincidence. Naturally.

After all, it’s rather tricky for a despot to continue his ill-concealed ruse of being an egalitarian leader, if his team of machine-gun-toting minions were to openly acknowledge they bar those who dare to speak out against his dictatorship. That simply wouldn’t do for Bob’s pro-democratic propaganda agenda.

You could argue (as staunch Mugabe supporters do) that Bra Hugh Masekela has still been welcomed into Zim with open arms, despite releasing a song, Change, as part of his 2002 Time album. In it he sings:

“Everything must change, nothing is for ever

“What is that makes a person want to stay in power for ever?

“What is the reason why a man wants to force his will upon the land?

“Robert Mugabe, don’t you think it’s time to say goodbye?”

That Bra Hugh happens to be a long-time friend of Oliver Mtukudzi (in honour of whom he was invited to perform in past years), who in turn happens to be tight with high-level Zanu-PF officials, has absolutely no bearing on why he continues to travel in and out of Zim without restriction. Of course not.

Those same santa ignorancia supporters will further contend Freshlyground’s deportation was justified on the basis of “the many Zimbabwean artists who have been denied visas” (pray tell, who? And for which countries?);

“We have a right not to grant visas to those who mock He.” (By writing “He” in capitals, are they suggesting Bob is on the same level as God/Allah/Jehovah?);

And “Snoop Dod (they obviously meant Dogg) is not allowed in the UK” (er, which has what to do with Zim, exactly, being that he’s American and, FYI, the ban – which was imposed because of Snoop’s criminal activity – was lifted in 2010).

At least Zimbabweans who are capable of thinking for themselves were quick to jump to Freshlyground’s defence, expressing their outrage and disappointment at what could almost be deemed a diplomatic incident.

Or perhaps, as one “always look on the bright side” social commentator put it: “Shame, Bob was probably afraid Freshlyground would steal his Doobee Doobee…”



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