By Alex Bell
SW Radio Africa
22 January 2014
A sold out concert for Canadian rock star Bryan Adams in Zimbabwe, has sparked debate about attempts to legitimise the Robert Mugabe regime.
The show is taking place at the Harare International Conference Centre on Friday, the day before Adams performs in South Africa. Tickets, which ranged between $30 and $100, promptly sold out after the concert was announced and buzz about the show has been building.
But the concert is not being welcomed by all, amid concerns about efforts to normalise the situation in Zimbabwe since the highly disputed elections last year that saw Mugabe and ZANU PF resume total control of the country.
“Certainly it is improper considering the timing and possibility that it could send a wrong message about the situation in Zimbabwe following the flawed elections,” said Dewa Mavhinga, a senior researcher with the Africa division of Human Rights Watch.
He told SW Radio Africa on Wednesday that if high profile artists like Adams decide to visit Zimbabwe, then they have a responsibility to highlight the challenges the country faces.
“It should not be a trip for the elite which ignores the suffering in the country. There is a need to balance it out and say that if you are in the country then you have an obligation to speak out against human rights abuses and be an advocate for democratic change,” Mavhinga said.
Other critics have compared the situation to that of apartheid South Africa, where an international cultural boycott began in 1961, with musicians and other performers refusing to travel to South Africa while apartheid existed.
In Zimbabwe however, despite the myriad of human rights atrocities committed by the Mugabe regime (including the Gukurahundi genocide, the deadly Operation Hakudzokwi at the Chiadzwa diamond fields, and Murambatsvina), there is no such international action.
Mavhinga said this lack of united international action was a result of the power of ZANU PF’s “propaganda machinery,” which has successfully divided international opinion.
“One must acknowledge that the ZANU PF propaganda machinery has been in overdrive. The flawed elections in July 2013 did not get the condemnation they deserved because countries like South Africa endorsed the process; even SADC was hoodwinked and endorsed the process. So did the African Union. So that gives a difficult context to mount a cultural boycott or any other kind of international campaign,” Mavhinga said.
Other Zimbabweans have meanwhile said that boycotting the country is not the answer.
“Zimbabweans have a real hunger for contact with the outside world,” said Petina Gappah, a Zimbabwean novelist quoted by the Globe and Mail newspaper.
“Isolation has not worked. I think engagement is the way to go.”
An online commentator agreed, saying: “People must learn to separate issues, do they mean Zimbabweans staying in Zimbabwe should stop living, enjoying some of these finer things in life simply becoz Mugabe is still alive and ruling? Leave politics kupolitics, Mugabe is not even going to attend this show, Bryan Adams waita zvako iwe, Zimbabwe is not Robert Mugabe and his cronies they are millions of other Zimbabweans in Zimbabwe…”
Others however said that the international community was risking not only normalising an abnormal situation, but also giving credibility to a flawed election process and illegal regime. Similar comments were also voiced when the United National (UN) tourism body hosted a high level, international conference in Victoria Falls, a month after the disputed elections last July.
Another online commentator said such events “risk romanticising squalor at the expense of progress.”
Mavhinga agreed, warning that there should not be a different human rights standard for Zimbabwe for the sake of ‘engagement’.
“The challenge is that the international community has sought to accommodate ZANU PF in many ways and there’s been a lowering of international standards to accommodate ZANU PF. What we are saying is that universal values like human rights should not have a special yardstick just for Zimbabwe alone,” Mavhinga said.
See video Bryan Adams – Summer of 69