Zimbabwe musicians take aim at corruption

Jim Mangezi (left) and Norman Manuwere, musicians in the group Xtra Large, rehearse their songs that promote anti-corruption. Their song was used in the album, “Together Against Corruption Volume 1.” (Photo by Linda Mujuru, GPJ Zimbabwe)

By Linda Mujuru, Global Press Journal Reporter

HARARE, ZIMBABWE — “No to corruption, yes to construction,” sing Jim Mangezi and Norman Manuwere, the duo known as Xtra Large.

They are among the featured musicians on “Together Against Corruption Volume 1,” a new release initiated by lawyer Dumisani Mthombeni, director of Zero Tolerance-Wise Youth Trust, a Harare anti-corruption group. He invited Mangezi, Manuwere and 12 other artists to write songs that encourage people to consider how asking for or paying bribes hurts the country.

“We have many good laws; some policies are good on paper. … those in government are now slow to do their work, which they are paid to do, because they believe that if they take a relaxed approach people will pay them a bribe,” Mthombeni says.

“We have many good laws; some policies are good on paper. … those in government are now slow to do their work, which they are paid to do, because they believe that if they take a relaxed approach people will pay them a bribe.”

Although Zimbabwe’s Prevention of Corruption Act criminalizes active and passive bribery, corruption is rife in the police force, land administration, tax administration, customs administration, public procurement and the natural resources sector, according to international compliance company GAN. On a scale from zero to 100, with 100 the least corrupt, Zimbabwe scores a 22 on Transparency International’s 2016 Corruption Perceptions Index.

Mthombeni says many people in Zimbabwe believe that if they want something done, they must pay a bribe. He wants to change that. The album contains 13 songs that speak to many forms of corruption — paying bribes at police roadblocks, soliciting sexual favors in return for jobs and nepotism within the education system.

The artists on the album, all from Zimbabwe, are Guspy Warrior, Ngonie Kambarami, Sniper Storm, Platinum Prince, Ninja Lipsy, Xtra Large, Stunner, Ti Gonzi, Trevor Dongo, ExQ, Shinsoman, Pattern Charisma and Tally Bee.

Mangezi says he participated to bring attention to the problem. Many people are so used to paying bribes that they are acting corruptly without knowing it, he says. When they’re asked by a government worker for a token of appreciation for a service that the worker is obliged to provide, people often don’t realize that they are part of the problem.

“Some of the people doing corruption are doing it subconsciously. We feel people need to be told how bad corruption is,” he says.

Although the album’s message is serious, Manuwere says, Xtra Large’s contribution to the recording takes a comic approach. In the music video, he and Mangezi mimic a common occurrence — a police roadblock — where drivers are asked to pay bribes to pass.

With titles like, “Zero Tolerance (To Corruption)” by Guspy Warrior and “Stop Corruption” by Tally Bee, the songs contribute to the fight against bribery and other corrupt acts in Zimbabwe as a part of the album “Together Against Corruption Volume 1.” Songs courtesy of Zero Tolerance-Wise Youth Trust

Hindering Growth

Musician Donald Chirisa says he contributed to the album because he believes corruption is hindering Zimbabwe’s growth and affecting even the education and health sectors. “People pay more than they should and sometimes fail to get the service that they should,” he says.

Ian Makiwa, known as Platinum Prince, says he chose to add a Zim dancehall-genre song, which mimics Jamaican popular music, because that is what youths are listening to at the moment.

“I think corruption awareness should start from the young people, so that they grow up knowing the consequences and effects of corruption,” he says.

Fighting corruption is especially difficult, says Makiwa’s manager, Ngonidzashe Fusire, because it “is now deep-rooted in Zimbabwe. …  If people who are supposed to stop corruption are the ones who are more corrupt, it becomes more difficult to stop it.”

He says corruption should be stamped out in the music industry as well. “Some radio hosts want to be paid bribes in exchange for airtime for their songs. Songs should be played on radio whether someone has paid or not.”

Ian Makiwa (left) and Ngonidzashe Fusire pose for a portrait in Harare, Zimbabwe. The two of them composed songs to fight corruption. (Photo by Linda Mujuru, GPJ Zimbabwe)

Mthombeni says he’s been receiving positive feedback from government officials and government institutions like the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission. “We are currently engaging the Zimbabwe Republic Police to also closely work with them,” he says.

“Corruption happens because individuals are pushing selfish agendas,” Mthombeni says.

Corruption at Two Levels

Farai Mutondoro, senior researcher and coordinator with Transparency International Zimbabwe, notes that in Zimbabwe there is grant-level corruption, which involves political actors, and petty-level corruption, which involves the police and other public institutions.

Grant-level corruption involves individuals with power and political influence. When the actors are low-level bureaucrats and citizens, that is petty-level corruption.

Donald Chirisa, an artist who contributed to the album, “Together Against Corruption Volume 1” poses for a portrait in Harare, Zimbabwe. His song teaches people to not be corrupt. (Photo by Linda Mujuru, GPJ Zimbabwe)

“Grant-level corruption provides a moral justification for petty-level corruption,” says Mutondoro. “We need to see some action in terms of prosecution of the big shots.”

While he applauds a government-led campaign aimed at spreading anti-corruption messages, Zimbabwe’s Anti-Corruption Commission and several bills to curb corruption, he says all this does not necessarily translate into less corruption.

“Evidence of this can be seen within the ZIMDEF scandal, where they were told not to arrest a high-level executive because it would destabilize the government,” Mutondoro says.

“It’s citizens who pay the cost of corruption. … It is the poor drinking unsafe water, denied basic facilities at hospitals. Ordinary Zimbabweans will continue to be denied those basic services by corruption,” he says.

Volume 2 Planned

Mthombeni already is planning the next album — Volume 2 — and says he has extended invitations to musicians across Africa.

“We have engaged other musicians in Kenya, Gambia, Uganda, Zambia and South Africa. Hopefully each and every African country will have one representative,” he says.

In the official music video for the song “Huwori Hwawondonga Nyika”, or “Corruption Has Destroyed Our Country” by Xtra Large, the group mimics a scenario where drivers are asked to pay bribes to pass. Video courtesy of Zero Tolerance-Wise Youth Trust.

EDITOR’S NOTES: Members confirmed to GPJ the spelling of their band’s name as “Xtra Large,” although it appears elsewhere as “Extra Large.” No sources in the story are related. 

Linda Mujuru, GPJ, translated some interviews from Shona.

This article was published through a partnership with Global Press Journal.