by Irene Madongo
14 September 2010
Bulawayo-based artist Owen Maseko, who was arrested for his exhibition about the Gukurahundi atrocities under the Mugabe regime, believes that the local artistic community has deserted him. He says it is possible they fear persecution after he faces new charges that come with a harsher prison sentence.
In March Maseko was placed on remand, on charges of ‘undermining the authority of or insulting the President and causing offence to persons of a particular race or religion’, which has a maximum prison sentence of 12 months.
But the State now wants him to face a different charge, that of breaching Section 31 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act by allegedly publishing or communicating falsehoods prejudicial to the State. This comes with a maximum prison sentence of 20 years.
Speaking about the lack of support from the artist community Maseko said; “I was surprised that the artists are the only community that has not really truly supported me. I don’t know, maybe it is something to do with fear. Maybe they are scared or worried that if they associate with me they might also get arrested.”
Maseko added: “Artists are aware of how, whatever the outcome that can happen to me, can greatly affect them, but taking a stance of running away is not really a helpful one because whichever way they look at it they will still be greatly affected.”
On Monday Maseko’s lawyers challenged the State’s new charge. They said that because Maseko’s first charge has not been dealt with, it was not lawful to bring in another charge at this stage. The lawyers also pointed out that there is no procedure which allows the State to substitute a less serious charge for a more serious charge.
As a result, Magistrate Ntombizodwa Mazhandu ruled that the State can only bring new charges against Maseko if the first charges have been withdrawn. So the State has now withdrawn the earlier charges and Maseko will face the fresh charges in court on Wednesday.
But Maseko said he is not afraid to face the new charges. “I am not worried. My lawyers have been good and have not disappointed me so far. I am really looking forward, but given a choice I did not want to be in court. With Zimbabwean law you never know what might probably happen in a court room.”
Although his Gukurahundi exhibition is now banned in Zimbabwe, he says he plans to show it around elsewhere, such as regionally.