Author: Fungai Machirori

Zimbabwe learns to laugh at itself – but just how much?

Zimbabwe’s largest arts event, the Harare International Festival of the Arts (Hifa), came to a controversial end last night when popular South African Afro-fusion band, Freshlyground, was prevented from performing its closing show. With the highest priced ticket – US$25 – of all the performances at this year’s Hifa, the band was set to bring to an end the 15th edition of the festival, held under the theme ‘Switch On’.

Fielding questions from Zimbabweans via Twitter late last night, the band stated that upon arrival at Harare International Airport yesterday, they were immediately ordered to leave the country with no explanation offered.

The only plausible reason for this, and their inability to gain accreditation to perform, is the 2010 release of their song Chicken To Change. The music video features President Robert Mugabe as a latex puppet in a re-enactment of his 1980 Independence speech. The video incorporates political characters derived from the satirical South African show, ZA News, including Jacob Zuma, Helen Zille, Zwelinzima Vavi, Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela. Towards the end of the video, Mugabe’s caricature turns into a chicken, underscoring the song’s message that the leader has lost his standing and respectability due to an inability to change with the times.

In the same year as the song’s release, Freshlyground had their working visas to Zimbabwe revoked just before a scheduled performance in Harare. Before the release of Radio Africa, the album which features Chicken To Change, the band had previously played in Zimbabwe at the 2009 National Arts Merit Awards (NAMA) ceremony and at Hifa in 2004.

Mixed emotions have been expressed by Zimbabweans via social media about the cancellation with some feeling that state censors have acted irrationally to curtail freedom of artistic expression, while others feel that the festival organisers should not have publicised the band’s appearance if accreditation for the performance was not guaranteed. Some feel that the group should not have expected entry into the country again after releasing their controversial 2010 song.

Not the only controversy at this year’s festival, the play Lovers in Time came under intense scrutiny – from both the state and the public –  for its reworking of the historical narrative of the 1800s anti-colonial figures, Mbuya Nehanda and Sekuru Kaguvi, who are transported into contemporary post-colonial Zimbabwe wherein they switch sex and race and experience Zimbabwe in different bodies.  Its last showing yesterday was delayed by almost 30 minutes and featured police presence and audience protest.

Stand-up comedy
Amid the web of controversy, stand-up comedians seems to somehow have managed to get away with it at this year’s festival.

Two of the comedy shows on offer, 75% (comprising three local comedians, Comrade Fatso, Michael Kudakwashe and Clive Chigubu) and Carl Joshua Ncube’s one-man act held audiences in braces of laughter with jokes about the adventures and misadventures of Zimbabwean life.

Attracting a racially mixed audience at the Reps Theatre auditorium – a venue of historical privilege which is still patronised by a largely white audience in between Hifa performances – the performers showed a consciousness and ease about discussing race. In one of his skits, Kudakwashe joked that while the black people in the audience may have had reservations about coming to the show, they couldn’t resist it when they heard it was comedy (as opposed to high art). Also, Comrade Fatso took to unpacking the different colloquialisms used among Zimbabweans – black, white, Indian and coloured – to show their concurrent hilarity and inaccessibility to those outside each racial grouping.

While it might seem risqué for a white performer in Comrade Fatso (real name Samm Monro) to make fun of race, he is of the long tradition of satire and political commentary in Zimbabwe. Starting out about a decade ago as a dreadlocked spoken word artist, his moniker is a deliberate play on the socialist tradition of comradeship among Zanu-PF’s leadership, while Fatso is a common corruption of the Shona name, Farai, which Monro has adopted. Monro is also co-anchor of Zimbabwe’s satirical comedic news show, Zambezi News, which provides commentary on politics and the state in Zimbabwe.

Nevertheless, it was Carl Joshua Ncube who raised the stakes higher in his one-man act. Everything came under humorous attack including the weakened MDC party, the state broadcaster’s idolisation of Mugabe and tribal differences among Zimbabweans, which all elicited howling laughter.

Carl Joshua Ncube. (Pic: Fungai Machirori)
Carl Joshua Ncube. (Pic: Fungai Machirori)

“Initially, political comedy had to be ambiguous because people always felt that if you made fun of Mugabe you were MDC, and if you made fun of Tsvangirai, you were Zanu-PF,” he states.

Joking about religion
When Ncube turns his humour to religion, however, the contrast is striking. Stifled audience response is offered as he makes a sexual joke veiled as a prayer and when he references the popular Pentecostal prophet, Emmanuel Makandiwa, who has promised to walk on water.

“My biggest challenge right now is religious leaders,” says Ncube adding that he has received death threats from church leaders and congregants of different churches and denominations he makes jokes about.

Ncube identifies as a Christian.

“Right now, I am deliberately holding back a lot of content because I need to get to a point where I am not seen as the anti-Christ,” he adds.

Ncube, who has steadily become a household name in Zimbabwean comedy, sees increasing acceptance of his more political content as a natural progression of political discourse in Zimbabwe; something which is not apparent in religious discussions.

Zimbabwe-born Takunda Bimha, founding director of the South-Africa based comedy agency, Podium The Comedy Merchants, concurs.

“Compared to South Africa, it’s been a lot more difficult to get a comedy industry going in Zimbabwe given the many issues the country is going through and the obvious sensitivities around politics and religion,” he observes.

Bimha’s agency has managed big South African names in comedy including Trevor Noah and currently boasts names like Kagiso Lediga and Loyiso Gola.

“Comedy comes from pain and a place where you need to say something,” Bimha adds. “And given Zimbabwe’s circumstance, this makes for great content.”

While this year’s local Hifa comedy performances have shown an increasing ease among Zimbabweans to laugh at themselves, they also underscore that with the return to one-party rule and the seeming demise of the MDC, religion is increasingly gaining purchase as the new and untouchable political paradigm in Zimbabwe.

At the same time, it is also clear that Zimbabwe’s political history remains off limits to humorous representation and artistic re-interpretation.

Zimbabwe can laugh … just not at everything.

Fungai Machirori is a blogger, editor, poet and researcher. She runs Zimbabwe’s first web-based platform for womenHer Zimbabweand is an advocate for using social media for consciousness-building among Zimbabweans. Connect with her on Twitter

‘When Women Speak’: Exploring Kenyan feminisms


Fungai Machirori interviews Brenda Wambui and Michael Onsando, co-founders of the Kenyan thought leadership platform Brainstorm. They recently launched a quarterly online journal with the first edition titled ‘When Women Speak’.

Can you briefly tell me when and how the idea of this journal came about and why you chose feminism as your first topic?

Brenda Wambui (BW): We had been toying with the idea of a quarterly supplement/e-book since late last year. Having published an essay a week on the Brainstorm site for six months, it felt natural as we wanted to expand our content offering and create bodies of work around issues we feel are important to the Kenyan existence.

Also, we had been getting pulled into discussions that revolved around feminism frequently and realised that there were a lot of misconceptions about feminism. So feminism was at the top of both our heads.

The articles in the journal are quite in-depth. And furthermore, the journal is distributed online. Some might argue you are preaching to the converted.

BW: You would be surprised to learn that even online, we have several people who wake up each day and disparage women just for the hell of it. People still mock and bully feminists online for having the courage to speak out. These people, too, need to see what we have written. It is easy to think that just because people are online and have internet access, they will not be sexist because they have easy access to information that can change this, but this is not the case.

About the articles being in depth; that is why we decided to do this on a quarterly basis as opposed to monthly. People can take their time to read and re-read the e-book, as the next one only comes out in three months.

Michael Onsando (MO): We really tried to keep the language simple and to the point. We hope to reach the people who still think feminism is out of reach of the ordinary citizen.

How freely do Kenyan women identify as feminists?

BW: It used to be that being a feminist was a bad thing, because as the stereotype goes, feminists are ugly and angry because no man wants them. However, with the rise of the internet, and especially social media like Facebook and Twitter, women who identify as feminists have been able to articulate what we are fighting for, which is equal rights and equal opportunities for women and men. With this increased understanding, more and more women are willing to identify as feminists.

And how freely do Kenyan men identify as feminists?

MO: Not many men identify as feminist. The feminist has been painted as a bitter single woman. Therefore, identifying as feminist creates a situation where one’s masculinity is called into question; I know mine has. And even the men who would be feminists don’t like the word, as if it is dirty and as if using it will somehow kill them. This is not to say that there are no Kenyan men that identify as feminist. They exist, and I feel dearly for them. But those against vastly outnumber those for.

There’s a poignant thought in one of the pieces: “I don’t know if our mothers think their sons are not the boys … that will hurt women. If they do, I don’t know if their fear that their daughters might be raped is equal to the fear that their sons may one day rape.” From a Kenyan perspective, what do you attribute this to?

MO: There is a lot to be said about nurture. There is a ‘boys will be boys’ attitude here. As if, from birth, the male child has been given up on. Of course, it falls back to the patriarchal nature of society. The man will continue to be allowed to do as he wills while the woman submits. This is what we are taught. This is what we learn.

And then there’s the rapist. The rapist is constructed as a faraway mythical creature that is easily identifiable by how he walks talks, smells and acts. No one dares imagine that the rapist could be well-groomed, eloquent and middle class. Yet, more often than not, he is.

BW: Women are usually the ones who are warned against many things. Almost all parents will warn their daughters against being out at night, wearing short or tight clothes, getting pregnant at an early age and instruct them to wait for sex within marriage. Yet they rarely ask themselves who is going to harm or impregnate their daughters. Is it not young men like their sons? Parents believe that their sons are not the ones raping or harassing girls; but the statistics say otherwise.

You say you seek to redefine Kenyan feminisms. However, the language of feminism remains embedded in historical and emerging American feminist rhetoric – rape culture, privilege, intersectionality, self-care – much of which is to be found in ‘When Women Speak’. Can you redefine feminism without redefining its accompanying language?

BW: I feel that there are only so many words we can invent to describe something – feminism over the years has done a great job of hashing out language and terminology, and describing what is problematic and what is not. The language used by feminists, in my opinion, is okay. What we need to do now is to contextualise the conversations to Kenya, and Africa. When you read about rape culture in New York, you may become wiser but still unable to apply it to your own existence.

MO: The thing is, we speak a western language. It is almost impossible to find ‘Africanness’ within English. And even if we manage, somehow westernisation will creep in. I think this is why a lot of African feminists struggle with language. There is something about finding one’s tongue within a language that doesn’t fully accommodate your existence that is very frustrating.

Is there space in today’s world to not identify as feminist, but yet embrace its ideals?

BW: I encounter this argument a lot and it saddens me because many people want equal rights and equal opportunities for men and women, but do not want to be identified as feminists, probably due to misinformation and negative stereotypes. That is why we sought to (re)define feminism in our e-book. Perhaps once people are well informed about what feminism hopes to achieve, they will more easily identify with it.

MO: I think the idea of identity these days is used to skirt around many issues and to alienate others. There are presumptions that come about with identity and that’s why many people chose to, or not to, identify as many things – particularly as feminists. What’s more important to me is what you stand for. If you’re standing on the side that fights for justice then, I find, I hardly care what you decide to identify as.

‘When Women Speak’ is available for free download at

Fungai Machirori is a blogger, editor, poet and researcher. She runs Zimbabwe’s first web-based platform for womenHer Zimbabweand is an advocate for using social media for consciousness-building among Zimbabweans. Connect with her on Twitter

Zimbabwe: State paternalism and the policing of women’s bodies

Recently, a Kenyan friend and I had a long conversation about the objectification of women’s bodies in our respective countries, and the role of popular culture therein. As with all cultural industries, there are many avenues for such sexist expressions. But we eventually got stuck on the music sector, and two offerings in particular.

Hers was a song, Fundamentals, by a Kenyan musician known as Ken wa Maria. In the song, he points at the woman he is cuddling up to – even pointing to her nether regions at some point – and states quite authoritatively:

“These are the things,

These are my things,

These are your things,

These are the fundamentals.”

Apparently her body and its composite elements are “the things”, and these things are his before they are hers, or anyone else’s. These are the fundamentals!

In turn, I shared a Zimbabwean song from the late 90s. Called Special Meat (need I really say more?!), the singer engages in Job-like wailing as he exhorts the listener to help him with locating some ‘special meat’. Yes, special meat, like the kind you go into a butchery to buy.

There is a hilarity about these songs. As we watched and shared them online, we couldn’t help but laugh; the sort of laugh that finds these artefacts ridiculous and incomprehensible, and yet pervasively and dangerously catchy.

I am thinking of this interaction for a few reasons. Chief among them being an equally ridiculous and incomprehensible public notice featured in one of Zimbabwe’s main newspapers last week.

Nestled on the last page of the business section of The Herald of Wednesday March 26  is a notice – from the Registrar General  – which advises that there are “… some foreigners particularly Asians who masquerade as Zimbabweans whilst holding fraudulently acquired Zimbabwean documents…” and that “Some of them contract marriages with our local women.” Members of the public are therefore duly advised to “thoroughly scrutinize documents of all foreigners who are intending to marry Zimbabwean women”. Chiefs and village heads are also called upon to be “extremely vigilant”.

(Pic: Fungai Machirori)
(Pic: Fungai Machirori)

The xenophobic sentiment is enough to rile one up. But the authority of possession in referring to Zimbabwe’s women as a commodity of the state is disparaging and infuriating, to say the least.

The same Registrar General’s office, with Tobaiwa Mudede at its helm, has been the cause of much consternation to Zimbabwean mothers. The Guardianship of Minors Act, a piece of legislation granting guardianship rights and decision-making authority to a child’s father, has seen many mothers struggle to get basic documentation, such as passports, for their children owing to the fact that the Registrar General and his office have been known to make demands that the child’s father be physically present to sign accompanying forms on behalf of the child. A mother’s authority has not been deemed adequate.

The adoption of Zimbabwe’s new Constitution, however, now prohibits discrimination between men and women in terms of guardianship of children. Ironically, voting in this constitutional process took place a year ago in March. And yet a year later, we have notices from the same Registrar’s office reminding us that women are incapable of decision-making of any sort and are in desperate need of monitoring and surveillance; for our own good, of course.

This is not new, however. Zimbabwe’s Legal Age of Majority Act, passed into law in 1982, meant that for two years after Zimbabwe’s independence, women over the age of 18 were regarded as minors in issues such voting and ownership of property. In the same era, an operation to clear the streets of the capital city, Harare, of sex workers and vagrants was brought into force by the state. During this period, the government invoked emergency powers to detain women deemed to be ‘suspicious’’  At that time, over 6 000 women, many of whom were not part of the target group (for example, teachers, nurses and domestic workers), are thought to have been detained and/or arrested.

Walking in the suburb of the Avenues, sometimes nicknamed the red light district of Harare, after dark often still earns a woman an encounter with the police. And walking through town in a mini skirt – or any other form of clothing deemed inappropriate – still leads to women being publicly undressed and heckled.

State control is still set to full volume regardless of the raft of laws that seem to suggest otherwise.

Landmark ruling
The second reason I think of my interaction with my Kenyan friend is Mildred Mapingure who, in a landmark ruling by the Supreme Court of Zimbabwe last week, has had her appeal for compensation for a 2006 rape – that resulted in the birth of a child – partially allowed.

Mapingure is said to have sought emergency contraception within 72 hours of the rape to prevent pregnancy. The police, however, delayed her application.  Furthermore, the doctor overseeing the rape case is reported to have been unclear about the difference between a termination of pregnancy and emergency contraception.

While Mapingure’s pregnancy could have been avoided altogether, continual mishandling of her case meant that she was unable to have a medical abortion which is supposed to be provided for victims of rape as per the nation’s Termination of Pregnancy Act.

Indeed, Mapingure’s case is a watershed in the fight for justice, but it is also a chilling reminder of how the state continues to fail women. Whatever peace Mapingure may have made with the ordeal she has had to endure, the fact remains that the state’s lack of urgency and professionalism deprived this women governance over her body, and her future.

With international women’s month coming to an end yesterday, I am angered by the state’s continuing inability to handle women’s issues with the respect and fairness that they deserve.

These instances show a lack of confidence in women’s abilities to make reasoned decisions about their lives and aspirations, orienting our role in society to that of children. From the state and its paternalism to the sexist but body-jolting music we listen to, women are continually relegated to being viewed as objects and subjects.

April dawns today. On April 18, Zimbabwe clocks another year of independence.

Whose independence it is not, though, remains quite clear.

Fungai Machirori is a blogger, editor, poet and researcher. She runs Zimbabwe’s first web-based platform for womenHer Zimbabweand is an advocate for using social media for consciousness-building among Zimbabweans. Connect with her on Twitter

Perspectives on Zimbabwe’s literary scene as Caine Prize returns

It is 14 years since the inaugural Caine Prize for African Writing was awarded to Sudanese writer Leila Aboulela at the Zimbabwe International Book Fair (ZIBF). And while the fortunes for the Prize – one of the most prominent for African writing – have grown, the same has not held entirely for Zimbabwe’s local literary scene.

Once a prestigious event attracting regional and international visitors, ZIBF now goes by largely unnoticed. Vibrant writers’ groups like Zimbabwe Women Writers (ZWW) and the Budding Writers Association of Zimbabwe (BWAZ) have faded into near oblivion, their prolific writers’ exploits no longer published. Kingston’s – one of Zimbabwe’s flagship bookstores – has closed down its main branch on Harare’s Second Street thoroughfare, the office space now occupied by an insurance firm.

This week, however, the Caine Prize returns for the first time to Zimbabwe with its annual workshop and public events to be held over two weeks between Harare and Mutare.

“Our return is partly based on the high number and quality of entries we receive from Zimbabwean writers, and the funding conditions that make such an expensive enterprise possible,” says Lizzy Attree, director of the Caine Prize for African Writing. “The Caine Prize has long wanted to hold a workshop in Zimbabwe and support Zimbabwean writers, but has not felt the environment was right until recently.”

Amid the economic and political decline that has exacerbated, and even prompted, the shrinking of the nation’s literary space, writing and publishing have continued. The Intwasa National Short Story competition still features as a prominent part of the Intwasa Arts Festival which takes place every year in Bulawayo; an award in the name of the late celebrated writer Yvonne Vera, who died in 2005 aged 40, is given as part of the competition. At the same time, Weaver Press and amaBooks – local publishing houses – continue to produce reputable titles of Zimbabwean fiction and non-fiction.

Two Zimbabwean writers, Brian Chikwava and NoViolet Bulawayo, have also won the Caine Prize with Bulawayo in particular going on to enjoy great success with her debut novel We Need New Names. Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize last year and this year the winner of the inaugural Etisalat Prize for Literature, the novel’s first chapter is the 2012 Caine Prize winning short story, “Hitting Budapest”.

NoViolet Bulawayo. (Pic: AFP)
NoViolet Bulawayo. (Pic: AFP)

Beyond these successes, however, Zimbabwe’s literary space remains insular.

“Unfortunately reading, outside school or college syllabi, is not a priority for many people in Zimbabwe,” says Jane Morris, co-founder of amaBooks Publishers. “There are people in the country who do buy new books, but the number of such buyers is limited and discerning.”

Facing resource challenges and limited sales, Morris adds that the publishing house has had to become very selective in what it chooses to publish, at times turning down viable manuscripts. While a partnership with the Caine Prize to locally publish its annual anthology is helping to raise amaBooks’ profile, Morris again cautions that sales have been limited.

Young writers
Another issue that is immediately apparent is the dearth of young Zimbabwean writers being published.

“Of course, much can be done to augment literary spaces which already exist,” suggests Novuyo Rosa Tshuma who is one of the few currently published Zimbabwean writers under the age of 30. “However, I don’t believe young writers should wait to be spoon-fed.”

Tshuma, who is 26, bears testament to the fact that there is still a space for young Zimbabwean writers to claim, both locally and internationally. A previous winner of the Intwasa competition who has had her short fiction published in local anthologies by amaBooks, Tshuma has since gone on to release a novella and short story collection titled Shadows, which is published by South Africa’s Kwela Books. She is currently studying towards a Master of Fine Arts with the prestigious Iowa Writers’ Workshop in the United States. At 22, she participated in the 2010 Caine Prize Writing Workshop held in Kenya.

“The question is, if an opportunity were to present itself today, would you have something written down on the page?” she asks.

Tshuma’s question is not easily answered, with a range of factors – some already highlighted – affecting young Zimbabweans’ endeavours, or lack thereof, into creative writing.

But it is one that fellow contemporary author, Tendai Huchu, would answer in the affirmative, having published his novel The Hairdresser of Harare with Weaver Press at the age of 28.

“What I believe though, with no empirical proof, is that, because Zimbabwe has a disproportionately sized diaspora, the nation’s literature reaps the benefits of having practitioners who interact with ideas from all across the world,” opines Huchu. “And that can only be enriching.”

Migration and transnationalism are prominent themes in Zimbabwean literature of the post-2000s; a trend underscored by the mass exodus of nationals during the political upheaval of the time.

Harare North, Chikwava’s novel offering, is set in London, for instance, while the protagonist in Bulawayo’s book, Darling, moves to Michigan to flee the political chaos of her Zimbabwean homeland. Guardian First Book Award winner, Petina Gappah, also wends in narratives of Zimbabwean life abroad into her 2009 short story collection, Elegy for Easterly.

But the Caine Prize is not without its critics, many of whom feel the initiative peddles an ideological agenda that provides a template of how to write about Africa, something ironically satirised by past Caine Prize Winner, Kenya’s Binyavanga Wainaina.

“Unfortunately, it makes bigger headlines to critique writing on the basis of subject matter, than on the basis of literary or linguistic style and accomplishment,” states Attree, adding that the hope of the Prize is to provide a window into a continent often misunderstood in the West. “If this window involves telling tales that are hard to read or which detail the often terrible events that occur in countries all over the world, then so be it.”

In dismissing the idea of an ‘authentic’ African or Zimbabwean narrative, and producing texts about such a space, Tshuma concurs.

“I encourage every writer to discard this word, ‘authentic’, from their vocabulary when writing,” she says. “There are many different Zimbabwes and different ways of seeing Zimbabwe; I don’t feel confined at all.”

Selected from seven African countries, the 13 workshop participants will each produce a publishable short story to be featured in the 2014 Caine Prize Anthology. The workshop runs from March 21 to April 2, with the writers also visiting with schools and engaging in public talks.

Fungai Machirori is a blogger, editor, poet and researcher. She runs Zimbabwe’s first web-based platform for womenHer Zimbabweand is an advocate for using social media for consciousness-building among Zimbabweans. Connect with her on Twitter

On Bryan Adams in Zim: Let us have our concerts and dance

Tonight Canadian rock musician Bryan Adams performs at a sold-out concert in Harare which has, over the last few days, become less about the music and more about Zimbabwe’s strained political relationships with the west.

According to reports, the approximately 3500 tickets sold out within ten hours of going up for sale late last year.  They are said to have ranged in price between US$ 30 and US$ 100.

Under normal circumstances, such modest figures might be overlooked. But this is Zimbabwe and if the reports coming out of the international media are anything to go by, Adams’ concert has the power to significantly assist in legitimising the autocratic leadership of the Zanu-PF government which returned to one-party rule through last year’s controversial elections.

This all sounds a little peculiar to me, especially considering that every now and then – contrary to what these recent media reports state – Zimbabwe has been known to receive a few international stars of repute. Joe Thomas, Sean Kingston, Ciara, Sean Paul and Akon have all visited Zimbabwe in the last five years. R Kelly is rumoured to be set to perform in Zimbabwe later this year.

Some of these artists’ performances in Zimbabwe, Sean Paul and Akon’s for instance, have been directly linked to campaigns led by the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA), a parastatal which works closely with government ministries and is headed by Zanu-PF loyalist Karikoga Kaseke. In 2010 ZTA,  working with other local initiatives, is rumoured to have invested over $1-million into hosting Sean Paul and Akon, who played at a once-off concert to an audience of over 20 000.

Interestingly the two came in for little, if any, scrutiny for being involved in this controversial concert. During the show, Sean Paul performed a rendition of Zimbabwe, a song written and performed for the nation by Bob Marley at Mugabe’s 1980 inauguration as prime minister.

Bryan Adams. (Pic: AFP)
Bryan Adams. (Pic: AFP)

From what is available online, it appears that Adams’ agent took advantage of the South Africa leg of his tour to explore the possibility of a performance in Zimbabwe.

The motivations thereof are unclear and I am not the right person to say whether or not they are political. But I will say it is unfortunate that so much effort has gone into angling what is – for the ordinary Adams fan –  meant to be a good night out.

But can the ordinary Zimbabwean afford these tickets?

The insinuation again is that the auditorium will be filled with an audience of political bigwigs and Zanu-PF supporters because it is only those actively moving the party’s agenda  who can afford to part with US $30 or more for this concert.

Every year, one of the biggest international festivals, the Harare International Festival of the Arts (Hifa), takes place in Zimbabwe. With most tickets ranging in price from $5 to $20, the average arts aficionado can expect to spend at least $50 on tickets alone over the duration of the week-long festival. Over the years, Hifa has had to answer many questions around the elitism of the event and its accompanying exclusion of the majority of Harare, and Zimbabwe. The festival – which attracts a large audience of white Zimbabweans – also brings into focus issues around race, access to resources and the arts in Zimbabwe.

It is therefore an unfortunate and reductive analysis of the state of affairs in Zimbabwe to assume that none besides the flag-waving and slogan-chanting can actually invest in having a good time. This analysis is not meant to gloss over the very real fact that the majority of Zimbabweans are living in the direst circumstances of poverty owing to Zimbabwe’s political and economic decline. It is not also not meant to cover up the many sins of those in political leadership who are looting and plundering the nation’s resources for personal gain and self-interest.

But it is intended to nuance the debate a bit. Because Zimbabweans can and do still enjoy and crave normal pursuits outside of the heavily politicised realm of party politics and sovereignty.

The idea I get is that this concert, through the person of Adams, will significantly alter the dominant narrative of autocracy and strife in Zimbabwe. But in case it was in doubt, US President Barack Obama this week sent a timely reminder that this won’t be the case soon, by ruling out Zimbabwe’s participation at the US-Africa Summit in August.

It’s not that simple.

So what is it about Bryan Adams that has attracted so much attention, and for such a small show?

The only difference I can make out between him and the other stars that I previously mentioned is that he is white.

Is there more at stake when a white international musician runs the risk of legitimising a black-led government that is known for delegitimising the rights of its white population? How did the Akon and Sean Paul case, with much clearer political links, attract less attention when they performed in Zimbabwe? Was it because that was when Zanu-PF was still within the power-sharing agreement with the MDC?

I hate to come up with conspiracy theories, but something about the coverage of tonight’s concert is off. And it has been off for many friends whom I have had this conversation with.

Many Zimbabweans aspire to more than being political pawns in a game of chess they neither sought nor control.

Let us have our concerts and dance.

Fungai Machirori is a blogger, editor, poet and researcher. She runs Zimbabwe’s first web-based platform for women, Her Zimbabweand is an advocate for using social media for consciousness-building among Zimbabweans. Connect with her on Twitter