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Zimbabwean comedians push the limits

A group of young Zimbabweans are testing the limits of freedom of expression with a new brand of political comedy.
Last modified: 14 Mar 2013 15:28

The comedians work in a small office, using basic camera and editing equipment to produce their shows.

It is a small group of staff; young professionals keen to build Zimbabwe’s entertainment sector and test the boundaries of freedom of speech…as far as they are legally allowed to anyway.

I am shown a snippet from their first dvd……which makes fun of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.

The DVD is about the prime minister being involved in a scandal in which several women claim to be his wife.

Zimbabwean comedians are starting to do this sort of thing more often. They get their ideas for making fun of politicians by reading the newspapers… looking for everyday issues like unemployment to build their shows around.

'A lot of pressure'

Jerry Makawa from Skandal TV is running things here. He is a very funny man and clearly enjoys what he is doing.

He says it is humour with a purpose.

"Right now Zimbabweans just want to laugh, “There is a lot of pressure right now. We are in the middle of a liquidity crisis. At the end of the day you need to get out of your daily grind and we are offering them a chance to put something in your dvd player and laugh."

The dvds are sold on the street for one $1.

Vendors say they sometimes sell around 10 000 copies a week.

In the capital Harare a group of people huddle infront of a vendor selling the sKandal TV dvds.

They are not happy with the vendor but not because of the content.

“Tell your boss to make the shows longer,” shouts one man, “we want an hour not just 30 minutes. I want to sit and home and really enjoy the comedy. You don’t see this stuff on state TV. We want more.”

Conservative society 

But being a comedian here and making such dvds is not always easy in what's still considered a conservative society.

Q, one of the comedians in the dvd walks with me in Harare and tells me how he got started and why he does what he does.

"I do find one or two people are very annoyed by what I am saying,” he tells me as we try to cross the busy street without being run over by a car, “but compare that to the 20 people that laugh when they hear what I say, that's what urges me on."

Zimbabweans are slowly speaking out, pushing the boundaries but there are still certain things one cannot say or do here. For example you are not allowed to make fun of the president.

In 2009 the country's leader, Robert Mugabe and the Prime Minister agreed to share power. The deal never really worked, and often led to violence between rival supporters and police.
Some things have improved since then.

A referendum on a new constitution is on Saturday.

A presidential election possibly in July or later this year.

Some civic organisations are already warning whatever freedom of speech is being allowed now - could easily end.

Meanwhile comedians in Zimbabwe will continue to try and make people laugh. It could be another difficult year politically and economically here…..maybe laughter is what the country needs right now.