Although Shakespeare wrote the line "If music be the food of love, play on", Zimbabweans have learned that playing music can land them in jail.
Especially if the music is “insulting” and undermines the authority of President Robert Mugabe.
A member of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), Nyengerai Makundidze, is still in jail three weeks after Zanu-PF supporters in Bulawayo found him in possession of music that insulted Mugabe. The lyrics remain unknown, but Makundidze joins a long list of offenders who have been arrested for offences committed against the 88-year-old leader. The police, under Section 33 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act, are empowered to arrest civilians for insulting Mugabe and undermining the office of the president.
Human rights groups and law experts have criticised the legislation and further opposition to the law has been extended by United Nations human rights commissioner Navi Pillay on her trip to Zimbabwe last month. Although jokes about Mugabe are widespread and attract a standard one-year jail term, most court cases collapse because state witnesses fail to prove the offence.
Political observers say the court cases and jail terms are meant to act as a deterrent to freedom of expression. The list of offences is always growing and several people have been caught on the wrong side of the law. At the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair, a police officer was arrested for using a toilet reserved for Mugabe and a Beitbridge man was arrested for being in possession of Mugabe cartoons.
Jokes about Mugabe’s health have even landed a senior MDC member, Douglas Mwonzora, in trouble. But Richmore Jazi is the latest person set to stand trial, later this year, for saying that Mugabe must have been helped to blow up balloons for his lavish 88th birthday party held in Mutare in February.