Zimbabwe: Cast attacked and play banned

English PEN strongly protests attacks against the cast and crew of satirical play The Crocodile of Zambezi, and its banning by the police, in Bulawayo in May 2008. According to the organisation’s sources, production manager Lionel Nkosi was tortured and threatened with death, and actor Aleck Zulu was beaten by police. English PEN believes that the attacks against these individuals, in the context of the targeting and banning of other critical plays, indicate a generalised threat to the entire company of The Crocodile of Zambezi, particularly the authors. It is deeply concerned for the safety of playwrights and all others associated with such plays in Zimbabwe, and calls on the authorities to respect their right to freedom of expression and to cease attacks against them.


On the afternoon of 29 May 2008, police officers came to the City Hall in Bulawayo, where rehearsals were taking place for the second performance of The Crocodile of Zambezi. Nkosi and Zulu were taken to the central police station and told that the play could not continue. The police reportedly stated that they had been told to ‘censor or stop any suspicious performances’. Nkosi and Zulu agreed to stop the show, returned to City Hall and packed up.


When Nkosi and Zulu were about to leave, they were stopped by four men in a car parked outside, unmarked and without registration plates, who asked Nkosi to get in. He was driven to an isolated location, where the men questioned him about the play and its backers, accusing it of ridiculing President Mugabe. According to Nkosi, the men threatened to kill him, then placed a sack over his head and beat him severely, at one point shoving a gun into his mouth. The attack left him covered in blood and with a fractured ankle, bruised ribs and gums and a loose tooth. According to some reports, Nkosi’s assailants were members of the secret service.


These attacks are part of a generalised crackdown on freedom of expression and other rights in Zimbabwe prior to the presidential election run-off scheduled for 27 June. Another satirical play about Zimbabwe’s political situation was also banned in Harare in May (see below) and there have been numerous attacks on the press.


Background Information

The Crocodile of Zambezi, set in a fictional country along the Zambezi River, is a satire on the Mugabe regime in Zimbabwe and is the result of a two-year collaboration between playwrights Raisedon Baya and Christopher Mlalazi. The play’s central character is the ageing leader of the country facing personal and political crises. The play opened on 28 May, despite the fact that although the company had paid for newspaper advertisements, these had failed to appear. The play was reportedly well received, but due to the ban closed after only one performance. 


Another satirical play about Zimbabwe’s political situation, Sahwira (Spirit of Friendship) by Elton Mjanana, which was being staged in Harare, was also banned in May. This play, which is based on Zimbabwe’s controversial land reform movement, features graphic scenes of torture and killings. The reason given for the banning was that the police had not been given advance notice.


In 2007, the police reportedly banned a number of plays on the grounds that they were in violation of the Public Order and Security Act (POSA) and the Censorship and Control of Entertainment Act, including Baya’s Everyday Solider and The Good President by Cont Mhlanga.


Further information

Press reports on The Crocodile of Zambezi and the attacks:


Reports on free expression concerns in Zimbabwe by the member organisations of the International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX): http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/77/


General information on Zimbabwe: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/country_profiles/1064589.stm


Please send appeals to the Zimbabwean authorities:  

  • Protesting the attacks on Lionel Nkosi and Aleck Zulu of the company of The Crocodile of Zambezi, and the banning of the play after just one performance, as well as the recent targeting and banning of other critical plays;

  • Expressing deep concern for the safety of playwrights and all others associated with such plays;

  • Calling on the authorities to respect their right to freedom of expression and to cease all attacks against them.



Minister of Education, Sports and Culture

Mr. Cde Aeneas Chigwedere  

Ministry of Education, Sports and Culture

Head Office, Union Avenue, P. O. Box CY 121, Causeway, Harare, Zimbabwe

Fax: 263 4 734 075


His Excellency Mr Gabriel Mharadze Machinga
Embassy of the Republic of Zimbabwe
Zimbabwe House
429 The Strand

Copy to:

Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression in Africa

Commissioner Faith Pansy Tlakula

African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights
48 Kairaba Avenue, P. O. Box 673, Banjul, The Gambia
Fax: 220 439076

Email: achpr@achpr.org     


***Please take action as soon as possible. Check with English PEN if sending appeals after 19 July 2008.***




Originally posted with the url: www.englishpen.org/writersinprison/bulletins/zimbabwecastattackedandplaybanned/

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