Zimbabwe’s hugely popular Harare International Carnival (HIC) has suffered a number of embarrassments in its short life – perpetually short of cash, shows cut short through power outages, problems with performers, and one year the event was cancelled altogether after being repeatedly postponed. Despite these challenges, the carnival manages to keep going and the crowds get bigger every year. It’s become a southern African phenomenon. But it’s been one guest’s lack of a VPL that gave HIC a hiccup this year.
The carnival itself – which takes place on Saturday 9 September is the climax to more than a week of festivities. Some are official, organised by Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA) through its partner Big Time Strategic Group of South Africa, and some are private/commercial events. Zimbabwe holds tight to its African traditions and the conservative religious lobby is strong, but in ‘private lounges’ it seems pretty much anything goes. Including Zodwa Mabantu.
Zodwa is a South Africa dancer whose ‘unique selling point’ is that she prefers to perform without underwear. News that she would be appearing at the carnival in Harare caused a huge storm. Bizarrely, a fellow South African soap star, Anne Nhira, waded in to the row and demanded she should be banned from the country. She half-succeeded, as Zimbabwe’s po-faced Censorship Board chair, Aeneas Chigwedere, said Zodwa could not take part in the official carnival events. Her appearance, he said, “is a travesty of our culture… We are told she will not be wearing a panty. It has serious immoral overtones. We must protect the community and the youths.”
To judge from online comments, the “youths” have no desire to be protected. In fact, they’re keen to get to the bottom of the matter. Others have fumed that the ruling undermines basic freedoms; the government has no right to dictate what people wear, they argue.
There was a fishy smell of hypocrisy over ‘Pantygate’. As Bruce Ndlovu put it in an article for the Chronicle newspaper, Zimbabwe could hardly complain about an “underwear dodging entertainer like Zodwa” when the country had its own raunchy dancers such as the (in)famous Bev (Beverley Sibanda) and her Sexy Angels. ZTA had invited samba dancers from Brazil and Cuba “with their own famous dislike for clothes” to take part in the carnival.
When asked “What is the difference between these so-called samba girls and Zodwa?”, one wit answered “Zodwa wears a dress but no panties, these girls wear panties but no dresses!”
Zodwa looks like having the last laugh, as she received an apology from ZTA CEO Karikoga Kaseke and is free to perform in private lounges with or without underwear. Meanwhile, Anne Nhira has seen her reputation trashed on social media in both SA and Zimbabwe for her below-the-belt attack on a fellow entertainer.
The country’s economy is in tatters and millions struggle daily with poverty and shortages, but it’s good to know that Zimbabwe is focusing efforts where they really matter arguing over a thong.