In 2019, highly-esteemed Action Hub director Tafadzwa Muzondo appeared before the Harare Magistrates’ Courts for fondling songstress Pauline Gundidza’s embonpoints. Prosecutor Lawrence Gangarahwe submitted that sometime in March, Pauline was at Action Hub Studio in Highfields, where she had been invited as a guest along with other artists at an art-related function. Bolt from the blue, Muzondo remarked that the “Mambokadzi” songbird had beautiful bosoms. She did not like it and she told her friends Mariane Kunonga and Boss Kedha about it, who then warned Muzondo. A defiant Muzondo is alleged to have leaned towards the musician and groped Pauline’s mammary gland. She reported the matter to the police.
Following a trial, Muzondo was later found guilty of indecent assault in September and was ordered to perform hours of unpaid work at a Harare school. Edzai Isu Trust also suspended him as its director. The chairperson Patience Gamuchirai Tawengwa said their organisation could not condone his conduct. Tawengwa also said their board was also committed to facilitating the formulation of an arts industry sexual harassment policy under the guidance of the Zimbabwe Women Lawyers Association (ZWLA) and the Zimbabwe Gender Commission (ZGC).
While the Pauline-Muzondo case was still getting emblazoned before the courts, Admire Sanyanga, the musician who composed an election jingle for President Emmerson Mnangagwa in 2018, appeared in court on allegations of raping an 18-year-old Waterfalls housemaid. The State’s submissions were that in July 2019, Sanyanga asked the maid to help him carry his luggage from her place of dwelling to his house, an invitation which she agreed to. Upon delivery at the muso’s house, he solicited her to come inside, promising to give her some oranges. The maid refused, only to yield in after he allegedly threatened her with violence. He allegedly dragged her inside and locked the door from inside. He raped her and warned her against reporting the matter to anyone. The maid recorded the incident in her diary. The matter came to light when her employer saw the diary, and a report was made, leading to Sanyanga’s arrest.
Earlier this month; Magistrate Hosea Mujaya sentenced to 18 years in prison ZimDancehall artist Joseph Chihomuhomu/Chigudogudo Mutamba for raping a 14-year-old girl who was a fellow tenant at his place of residence. The State proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Mutamba called the minor and asked her to sweep his room for him as he would give her money. When she entered the room, she asked Mutamba to leave the house, and he went outside. While sweeping, Mutamba suddenly came back into the house and locked the door from inside. Threatening her with a knife, he inebriated the complainant with liquor and Maryjane. Incapacitated as she was, he raped her. The poor complainant’s mother started looking for her and knocked at the accused’s door. Forcefully, Mutamba shoved the complainant into his wardrobe. The complainant’s mother, however, stormed into the house and found her daughter huddled in a wardrobe. The complainant then told her mother that she had been raped and her mother made a complainant with the police leading to Mutamba’s arrest. Although an unrueful Mutamba discredited the witness saying that she was of loose morals as she had been married three times, he was sentenced to 18 years in prison and four were suspended on condition that he doesn’t commit a similar offence in the next five years.
These are some stories that have been covered across our media in just the past year. By this I mean, those that made it to the press. There could be a lot more that have not been deciphered or more that were tossed off in newsrooms for reasons not known. Or there could be more that are yet to surface, involving our creatively-inclined male folks. Like a certain artist, film director or editor picks a girlfriend for the conference at the first happy hour. Saves time later. Oh, he waits until he knows their work is good before seducing them. He doesn’t like to have to lie about that. Everybody knows. It’s just what he does. The prettiest vulnerable female patron is always his target.
The normalised pattern of rape culture
Rape and other forms of sexual abuse are a global plague and for years, rape and sexual allegations have discoloured the illuminating local creative sector. If you’re tangential to the creative circle in Zimbabwe, it’s no doubt that you’ve heard the stories and agreeably, the scope and depths of the predatory behaviours in some of our male cultural movers is as nauseating as sickening.
It’s a world rampant?
The cases are not isolated to Zimbabwe or Africa only. Over the past years, there has been mass mobilisation against forms of abuses against women in creative workspaces. From #MeToo and #TimesUp in Hollywood to #IBelieveHer in Northern Ireland and #Cuéntalo in Spain, women around the world are sharing their stories on social media, organising protests and expressing their frustration with the criminal justice systems of their respective jurisdictions.
Yet despite this heightened awareness, laws around the world continue to fail victims of rape and sexual abuse and most of them will end up contemplating on not speaking at all and would rather take the abuse they endured to their own graves or at least until their abusers go to theirs first.
Of industry cover-ups…
As it turns out, whenever a male creative is accused of sexually abusing women, the industry seems quite interested in melding the art and the artist as long as it helps art progress. Calls arise to ward off pesky details from slithering into our assessments of the creative’s work. It’s dawning before our eyes more every day how the creative industry has been shaped by the abuses of power and its floodgates which have stayed largely closed despite that sphere being rife with misogyny. Men stand accused of using their creative positions to offend, ie turning film sets into hunting grounds; grooming young victims in various co-working spaces; and luring female colleagues close on the pretext of networking, only to trap them in uninvited sexual situations.
Too powerful to challenge?
Abused women would tell you that there are always excuses for these men; a foolish drunken evening or it’s something from the past the person, the abuser used to be, now reformed. Sometimes it’s clear that these men are too powerful to challenge, holding the keys to a gateway of career and security. That being the case, stars and power brokers are reflexively praised for their societal contributions in a case where charges of sexual misconduct are levelled against them.
Even as they’ve been accused of harassment, men have attempted to fend off the charges by trotting out good deeds. In his ruling of Mutamba, Magistrate Mujaya castigated the Zimdancehall artist for being a musician who claimed to sing against child marriages but went on to take advantage of the trust the child had in him and raped her. In a similar fashion, Muzondo hid behind the organisation he represented, one that was meant to promote and mentor, empower, and develop talented youth and women. This was instead used to take advantage of Pauline.
The trivialisation consent & “real rape”
Most of the discourse I witnessed around Mutamba and Muzondo focused less on re-litigating the merits of their case than it did on how they felt the two were unresponsive to the plight of these vulnerable women. Mutamba’s discrediting of the complainant’s indictments, saying that the mother was fabricating as it turned out that she wanted him to marry her daughter and that she was of lax morals as she had been married three times and even had abortions, made it clear he didn’t understand his accuser did not want sex that day or didn’t want to engage in all sex acts.
Enervated understandings of rape and sexual abuse are linked to concerns over the role of consent versus a focus on force in defining these crimes. This is a particularly contested aspect of rape law that is complicated by the existence of myths and stereotypes surrounding what amounts to “real rape”, often perceived as the young virginal women attacked/overpowered by a stranger. Many argue that it is, therefore, more desirable to define rape in terms of consent instead of in terms of force or coercion. Not that the consent threshold is perfect. Indeed, definitions centred on consent often require proof that the perpetrator did not reasonably believe the victim consented. What amounts to reasonable belief is a contested issue and often invites scrutiny of the victim’s behaviour, as opposed to focusing on the perpetrator.
But there has been a recent shift in some jurisdictions to what has been described in international human rights law as the “equality approach” to consent. This approach begins by examining not whether the complainant said, “no”, but whether they said “yes”. Efforts to formulate a more positive affirmative model of consent will not solve all of the problems associated with the crime, but it might go some way to challenging the real rape stereotype as well as the problematic attitudes surrounding what does and doesn’t amount to appropriate behaviour that is at the heart of movements such as the #MeToo and #TimesUp and #IBelieveHer.
Men Creatives, we need to talk…
It is time this changed. Since the laws of the land are failing us and our women, just between us men, we need to do the work of talking with each other about rape and consent through the best way conceivable. I don’t think most parents teach their children about consent because our society is too puritanical to sanction real sex education in schools. We especially don’t teach boys how to ask for consent or and to a certain degree, we don’t also teach our girls how to give it. I think we do the opposite. Boys are conditioned to feel that we have access to women’s bodies—whether or not they grant us permission.
The preceding instances of predatory behaviours in some of our male creatives (Muzondo, Mutamba and Sanyanga) serve as a rude awakening to our society in general and exceptionally, to our patriarchal dominated creative sector that we must think and talk about rape culture and consent. As men, we must teach our boys and ourselves to ask for “it”. Teach our daughters what consent is and how to grant it. It’s difficult, but we really need to get this conversation going. There is no “right time” to ask or talk about it. If there is, when is it? A year after Chigudogudo Chihomu comes home after serving his years? Maybe six years from now? Or just never?
If we don’t, imagine what will happen next or to generations that will come after us.
That’s the scary part. It literally could be anybody and probably will be somebody we know and hold dear. It could be our daughters and mothers who could be sexually assaulted or our much-beloved boys and men sent away for years.
As I continually attempt to wade through the filthy waters of accepting that some of our favourite creatives are also pretty terrible humans, I’m left realising that whoever I’m rooting for this morning can change entirely by noon. And best believe, if we are to dig deep enough into some of our revered creatives’ past today, we’re sure to find something that could put them on blast long enough to create damage to their careers or send them away in a lockup. And if you know folks ain’t shit, how can you support them without having to equivocate and create justifications for their shitty behaviour? Man, life comes at you fast. You better pray your favourites ain’t trash.
I’m sure, we have organisations that can kickstart these conversations, like Padare/Enkundleni/Men’s Forum on Gender, MWENGO, African Fathers Initiative, Ecumenical Support Services (ESS), Zimbabwe African Fathers for Peace, Students And Youths working on reproductive Health Action Team (SAYWHAT), ZIYON and similarly inclined NGOs and embassies or any artsy/creative organisations. Our society needs this, so does our industry.
I have no power, no influence, other than a voice in this space. But I can and will make a vow. I want to be part of such a conversation.
By all means necessary.