By Professor Matodzi
Harare, March 31, 2016 – HUMAN rights lawyers have hauled the country’s Board of Censors before an Appeal Board seeking to overturn the banning of a documentary film on the country’s pebbly constitution making process.
In May 2013, Zimbabwe enacted a new constitution which critics hailed as progressive as it contains an expansive bill of rights.
This followed a painstaking process in which President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu PF and coalition partners in the country’s opposition spent almost five years bickering over the process and content to be included in the country’s new governance charter.
In a bid to give the bulk of Zimbabweans who participated in the historic but often violent process a chance to watch and review the process, Upfront Films, a leading film company based in Denmark, which produced the documentary, in January sought permission from the Board of Censors to distribute DVD copies of the documentary film Democrats which it indicated documented a crucial era in Zimbabwe’s history.
But the Board of Censors turned down Upfront Film’s application for the distribution of free copies of Democrats.
In a letter written to Upfront Films, Isaac Chiranganyika, the acting secretary for the Board of Censors claimed that the documentary is not suitable for public showing.
“The Board of Censors after reviewing the DVD Democracy recommended that the DVD remains banned and prohibited in Zimbabwe because it is not suitable for public showing as previously recommended,” reads part of Chiranganyika’s letter obtained by RadioVOP from government sources this week.
Chiranganyika’s letter was also copied to Ministry of Home Affairs secretary only identified as Mr Chivaura and Zimbabwe Republic Police Commissioner-General Augustine Chihuri.
Democrats, which is a documentary film about the process of crafting a new governance charter in Zimbabwe was shot inside three years and mainly documents the processes led by Paul Mangwana and Douglas Mwonzora.
The two were rival political party representatives affiliated to Mugabe’s Zanu PF party and Tsvangirai’s MDC-T party, who collaborated despite several hurdles they encountered, to superintend over the process which gave birth to the country’s first “home grown” constitution.
Following the ban early this month, the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) recently petitioned the Board of Censors’ Appeal Board seeking to suspend the banning of Democrats.
In the application which was served on the Board of Censors last week, ZLHR, the country’s leading legal defence group, charged that by banning and prohibiting the distribution of Democrats, the Zimbabwean authorities had violated Upfront Film’s right to freedom of expression as provided for in Section 61 (1) of the constitution.
In Zimbabwe, the Board of Censors is notorious for banning films and theatre plays.
In 2012, the Board of Censors banned a theatre play entitled “No Voice No Choice” written by prominent theatre practitioner Tafadzwa Muzondo and aimed at national healing and peace building.
The Board of Censors claimed that the play was “inciteful and against the spirit of national healing and reconciliation”.
Apart from the Board of Censors, Zimbabwean police are also in the habit of banning theatre plays and dramas.
It has taken the intervention of organisations such as ZLHR to institute litigation so as to quash the police and Board of Censors’ ban on plays in defence of freedom of expression and to safeguard artists’ rights in Zimbabwe.