Zimbabweans find comfort in comedy

HARARE – Comedy continues to provide a temporary escape from the ever-increasing socio-economic challenges faced by most Zimbabweans.

"Comedians create an alternative world," prominent stand-up comic Carl Joshua Ncube told The Anadolu Agency. "Comedy is therapeutic."

The southern African nation is currently facing serious economic challenges, with the national unemployment rate reportedly soaring beyond the 90-percent mark.

These economic woes started in 1998, when they triggered the worst street protests in the country's history.

President Robert Mugabe, in power since independence from Britain in 1980, is accused of making serious blunders when he introduced the Economic Structural Adjustment Program in the early 1990s.

At the time, numerous companies closed and thousands of Zimbabweans were forced out of their jobs.

The opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) was thus born, and, in 1999, Morgan Tsvangirai – a popular trade unionist – became its leader.

The MDC took Mugabe's ruling Zanu-PF party by storm, winning a significant number of parliament seats in 2000 polls.

According to analysts, the experience rattled the ruling party to its marrow.

The space allowed for democracy continued narrow, while at the same time the economy bled.

The opposition was gagged with the introduction of the Public Order and Security Act in early 2000, leaving Zimbabweans with few options for democracy.

Comedians, however, have kept the nation going by subtly touching on social, economic and political issues that affect most Zimbabweans.

"Comedy is more about activism," Ncube told AA. "So I decided to use the stage to protest what I perceived is the lack of democratic space in Zimbabwe."

A few months ago, Zimbabwe's social space was inundated with jokes by a group called "P.O. Box," which talked about the country's political situation.

The group did one piece on the rise of Zimbabwe's first lady, Grace Mugabe, who has since been nicknamed "Mazowe."

Grace changed the country's political landscape, leading to the recent dismissal of Vice-President Joyce Mujuru and 15 cabinet ministers.

-Escape-

Ncube said that local comedy had received a boost in 2010 – after years of stagnation – due to the introduction of social media.

"The issue was about seizing the opportunity to laugh, which Zimbabweans had been looking for," he told AA.

Ncube, who ventured into comedy after the death of his father four years ago, said Zimbabweans had suffered considerably.

"The objective was to lift the spirits of the Zimbabwean people," he asserted.

Ncube said comedians wanted the government to be aware of the key issues affecting everyday people – hence comedy's success on social media.

Another comedian, Simbarashe Kakora – aka Simba, the "comic king" – said comedy was the best way to express oneself.

"Stand-up comedy is more or less standing up and talking about the problems people face every day," he told AA.

In his comedy bits, Simba makes light of the nation's many potholes, electricity cuts and water shortages.

-Alternative-

Despite being independent from British colonial rule for nearly 35 years, Zimbabwe still has only one television channel and only a few radio stations.

Zimbabwe Television is viewed as a mouthpiece for government propaganda and is shunned by millions of Zimbabweans, many of whom have migrated to cable television.

"Our media space has been tightly closed for years, making it very difficult for locals to freely express themselves," Takura Zhangazha, a political analyst, told AA.

He said comedy had become more popular due to social media that had enabled Zimbabwean comedians to offer their own material on free platforms.

Comedians have started openly sharing their protest jokes on WhatsApp, Facebook and YouTube – communication forums that cannot be controlled by the state.

The influx of cheap smart phones from China has also been seen as a major breakthrough.

Zimbabweans can now easily create and share comic items as a way of distracting themselves from daily problems.

"Comedy is protest – and it's fun," said Zhangazha.

Claris Madhuku, another analyst, agrees.

"What Zimbabweans need at the moment is fun that will make them forget their problems," he told AA.

Madhuku said Zimbabweans now found themselves with few options except church and comedy.

"Although the democratic space is closed, Zimbabweans are creative," he asserted.

"They use phallus language as a way of protesting ongoing unrest in the country," the expert added.

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