Friday, September 24, 2010

Freshlyground vs. Mugabe- Zimbabwe calling

Best known for their Shakira collaboration ("Waka Waka," aka the World Cup song), Afro-pop band Freshlyground is a multi-cultural dream. Though based in South Africa, the band members come from several countries in the area, plus the group is mixed by race and gender. As Stewie on Family Guy would say, they're like a Benetton ad, only they're cooler.

Their latest video has P-O'd its target- President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe. Once upon a time, specifically after Mugabe took over and ended white rule there in 1980, his policy (which South Africa later adopted after apartheid) was to keeping the white businessmen there to help the economy going, rather than seeking bloodshed and revenge. This worked well for a while too. Up through about the end of the 90's, the country fared much better than most other countries in the region, thanks in large part to tourism. I took part in that around 1988, visiting Victoria Falls (the place where Dr. Livingston was met up with). It's a beautiful area, full of lush vegetation and wonderfully friendly people. I was looking forward to going back there.

Sad to say, that won't happen any time soon. Mugabe took a turn for the worse and become a power-hungry scumbag, deciding that holding onto power at all costs was more important than the welfare of the nation. Around 1999, he set up 'land reform,' where he would sanction groups of blood-thirsty mobs to set upon the white farmers and 'liberate' their lands: admittedly, the white farms had a disproportionate amount of prime farm land space thanks to pre-independence deals but Mugabe's program was a terrible, disastrous way to compensate for this. His thinking was that if he went down this ill-advised path, he'd get the support of most of the people there by not only brewing up racial resentment but also encouraging it and rewarding it. Some estimates are that hundreds of these farmers were driven from their lands, which happened to employ many Zimbabweans. Mugabe's plan was not a boon for the country though as the 'war veterans' (many of whom were actually too young to have been around during the independence struggle) who took over the farms didn't have any farming experience themselves.

The result was that the Zimbabwe farms went to waste and the economy collapsed. Tourism stopped also, especially after the country-wide killings and land seizures were sanctioned by Mugabe and his cronies. As for the problems that he created for his own country, he's made England and America into scapegoats for this. He's has several fraudulent elections since then too although with the last one, he was forced into a toothless power-sharing agreement with the opposing political party. Most likely, his death won't necessarily mean an end to the country's troubles as he's surrounded by like-minded people who want to keep things as they are and are no doubt worried that they might not find a safe haven to avoid eventual prosecution for their crimes.

Needless to say, in a dictatorship like this, any kind of dissent isn't tolerated. The opposing party has been brutalized for years now and independent news is scarce inside the country. In addition, any kind of art that isn't govt sanctioned or is critical of the govt is just asking for trouble.

Since they're operating out of state, Freshlyground can afford to criticize Mugabe. Their video for the lively tune "Chicken For Change" features puppets that look like something out of Spitting Image. The Mugabe figure already looks kind of like a chicken to start with but it's still funny to see him change into one by the end of the video. Of course, the Zimbabwe govt. took exception to this as this AP article explains, also saying that any Zimbabwe group would have been jailed for such an 'offense.' For Freshlyground, that's also meant that they can't play any gigs in Zimbabwe now, for obvious reasons. Luckily, the band is undeterred. As singer Zolani Mahola says in the article, Zimbabwean fans have been supportive of the band and the song's message:
"Somebody has said something for them," she said. "We have to be able to speak. You have to be able to have a voice."
Enjoy the video above and if you wanna support the band too, you can buy the single at their website.


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