Zimbabwean faces jail over massacre art
by Ginny Stein
A Zimbabwean painter faces more than 20 years in jail for depicting the Gukurahundi massacres in which 20,000 people were killed.
Police in Zimbabwe’s second largest city of Bulawayo shut down Owen Maseko’s exhibition in March last year, less than 24 hours after it opened.
The exhibition graphically detailed the atrocities committed in the early years of president Robert Mugabe’s 30-year rule.
The Gukurahundi is Zimbabwe’s name for the slaying and torture of thousands of minority Ndebele who were killed in a campaign to silence Mr Mugabe’s then main political rival.
Now Maseko has been charged with insulting the president and the charges could see him jailed for 24 years.
But he is optimistic and says his paintings have given people a voice.
“Those atrocities, you can’t talk openly about them in Zimbabwe, so my exhibition kind of made this issue come out and people began to talk about the exhibition,” he said.
“It’s difficult in Zimbabwe to separate what is politics and what isn’t politics because maybe people see Robert Mugabe in my paintings because it is what is on their minds and their faces and it is what is giving them quite a lot of stress at the moment.”
Bulawayo National Gallery curator Vote Thebe says he displayed the exhibition hoping it would help the healing process.
“Our whole aim was to start a debate on the massacres and let the people talk about what happened,” he said.
“And then that way, once you talk about the thing, you get healed as well.
“It wasn’t a way of pointing fingers but it was a way of making sure that people are aware that such things happened.”
While Mr Mugabe, 87, admits the massacres were an act of madness, he has never acknowledged responsibility.
Zimbabweans are hoping to change their government, without the country descending into violence, when elections take place later this year.