Zambezi News: Zimbabwean Minstrel Show, Race+History+Context= “Comedy”…

So I was one of the privileged who attended the grand launch of Zimbabwe’s news Online TV show called Zambezi News. Its billed as a satirical comedy/sketch show, helmed by Comic/Poet/Cultural Activist Comrade Fatso, Rapper/Poet Outspoken and Comedian Michael K.

As a creative I attended to celebrate the growing “industry” in Zimbabwe, and also to shake off some of my personal prejudice and pre-conceptions about the project, which humanly had been formed by what I had personally seen in the build up and heard whisperings of, through my various interactions. I mean damn, gods know, I am perceived to have more chips on my shoulder than in the average 2 piecer at Chicken Slice. So in my conflicted state, I regularly try and step out of my box and stop being a “Asshole” and view things objectively.

Everything went tits up when after watching the episodes, I was chilling out side and watching some pretty young irish girl interview the patrons and up came a Rastaman who decided to GO H.A.M in front of the camera about ZAMBEZI news being a “Bunch of RACIST BULLSHIT”.

(Doubt the editors will let his rant through the final edit! we’ll see.. was also filming so, if not…)

I knew what he was referring to, and sadly, a small part of the broadcast had ruffled up Mr Gomojena the wrong way. I mean shiiiit, I had consciously agreed with my internal “ranter” that I would bite my tongue and walk away, forever holding my peace. It wasn’t that important… I mean, the said clip had been up on Youtube for 3 weeks largely ignored. Till I notice this on YouTube yesterday:

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What Choggachogga was referring to is one of Comrade Fatso’s alter-egos called Sixpence Sereni.

My response:

I genuinely don’t think the intention of the skit is to be racist. However, perceptions are everything and it being perceived as racist is just as important. What Comrade Fatso did was inadvertently racist because he put on a “Minstrel Show” and the very poor choice in Name for his Black Face alter-ego.  (damn… sound a bit like an apologist!)

Definition of a Minstrel Show: “The minstrel show, or minstrelsy, was an American entertainment consisting of comic skits, variety acts, dancing, and music, performed by white people in blackface …Minstrel shows lampooned black people as dim-witted, lazy, buffoonish, superstitious, happy-go-lucky, and musical.” (Wikipedia)

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Is the Skit funny; No. Is it necessary, not really… highlight is when “Shereni” misquotes our Head of State (and Commander and Chief of our Armed Forces)’s famous “We will never be  a colony again” to “We will never eat Polony again”. Hmmmmmm. Witty… but not clever, right?

Anyways, as I mentioned before, the name Sixpence Sereni, in its self is regrettable. See, in the colonial days, indigenous Zimbabweans didn’t have Surnames. My name is Kudakwashe, My “Christian” name is Victor, my Surname “Musasiwa” is probably an abstraction from my great great grandfathers Nickname, Firstname or characteristic… some Shona “Surnames” are Totems, Area’s, rivers,  etc, some are just made up, for the purpose of the ID’s the Rhodesians forced in the repressive pass laws.

When a Shona/Ndebele was named Sixpence or Shereni (Shilling), this was normally done because to work on the Mines, Construction or Farms, to receive your weekly Wage of 1 Sixpence coin for the lower labours 1 Shilling for the “muDumeni (Demonstartors)”. As most didn’t have the imperially required Surnames, the Mine/Farm owners regularly just gave the Workers the Surname of their Wage… hence a lot of our sekuru’s being named Sixpence or Sereni, or Bob (which is a cockney slang term for 1 Shilling). These old imperial denominations also gave rise to Black people being referred to as Guineas (The cost of an average slave… in todays language £1).

Now most people, including Myself and Comrade Fatso are probably too young to know the history and context of these derogatory names, however, when I spoke to Mr Gomojena after his rant in front of the Zambezi News camera (which I got on my iPhone for prosperity! hilarious!!) he is actually of an age when he was a teenager during the Colonial era and remembers not being allowed into a Shop or walk on the “Cycle Track”. He remembers the Minstrel Shows on the Rhodesian Broadcasting Cooperation and how he was caricatured as a black person. I know that if I dared show this clip to my dad or any of our Dads of that generation, they would be either offended, upset, disappointed or all 3.

Leon Schuster (The original Minstrel Champ) has stopped doing the black faces, I guess in South Africa, this would now be considered unacceptable.

I can’t blame fatso for this naiveté. I have to, however, call to book the majority of the black Zimbabwean’s who where cheerleading and let our murungu brother put himself in that position. The “Co-signers” who should know better.

I guess if the Skit was interviewing a Rhodie farmer caricature in a Rugby Shirt, eating Bilton and  speaking in “Chirapa-lapa”, the argument that this was suppose to stir up  a race relations debate… maybe…

But no where is this extreme Murungu in Zambezi news. No shots are taken at the numerous “white” kids who dress and speak black in Zimbabwe. No slight at the snobby rich black princes/princesses, who are Private School educated and can afford Red bar prices and have amercian accents after being in Australia for 2yrs. Just lampooning the Stupid fat Ministers/politicians, Dirty Street kids, power cuts, Drunken madala’s, eccentric Black pastors, wanna-be bling types, garden “Boys”, Bastardised “Shon-Grish” accents etc.

***Sigh***

However, I just saw the 1st 2 episodes… “Disclaimer”: with the “goggles” of an overly analytical/critical mind and after years in the belly of the beast, known to have a few axes to grind.  The big positive is that Zimbabwe is actually at a place where we let these types of things air out freely.

Clips available on:

http://www.youtube.com/user/ZambeziNewsTV

This article first appeared on Kuda Musasiswa’s Posterous blog. Kuda is a music producer producer, rapper and tech professional.