JOHANNESBURG – JOHANNESBURG (AP) — A South African pop group known for its World Cup collaboration with Shakira has been barred from performing in neighboring Zimbabwe after releasing a video depicting President Robert Mugabe as a chicken, band members said Monday.
Freshlyground singer Zolani Mahola told The Associated Press the band was informed last week by Zimbabwean authorities that work permits for concerts planned next month had been revoked. Mahola said no reason was given, but she believes the spark was the "Chicken to Change" video, which the seven-member band released earlier this month.
Zimbabwean immigration officials have refused to comment on the work permits for Freshlyground, the band that collaborated with international star Shakira on "Waka Waka (This Time for Africa)" the official anthem for South Africa's June-July World Cup. It was the first World Cup played in Africa.
The video for "Chicken to Change," which is on the band's latest album, depicts Zimbabwe's longtime president isolated in his limousine, uncaring of his people's suffering. The video's Mugabe puppet transforms into a fearful chicken as Zolani sings for change in Zimbabwe, a country gripped by economic and political crisis.
Ridiculing the president is illegal in Zimbabwe. Even gesturing at his motorcade in a manner deemed disrespectful can result in arrest. It's common for people to be briefly detained and fined for insulting Mugabe.
Mahola said the band's Zimbabwean fans have applauded "Chicken to Change."
"Somebody has said something for them," she said. "We have to be able to speak. You have to be able to have a voice."
Bandmate Simon Attwell said Freshlyground performed in Zimbabwe in 2008, at a time when ballots were still being counted from an election that had seen widespread violence blamed on Mugabe loyalists.
"It felt like change was in the air," said Attwell, a South African citizen who attended boarding school in Zimbabwe.
Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai won that election, but not by enough to avoid a runoff. Tsvangirai dropped out of the runoff, citing attacks against his supporters. Mugabe was declared the winner, but eventually forced by South Africa and other neighboring countries to form a unity government with Tsvangirai.
The unity government has foundered, and there are fears elections expected next year will only bring more violence. Attwell said when Freshlyground returned to Zimbabwe after 2008, "there was a palpable air of dejection."
Some band members have been questioning whether to boycott Zimbabwe, the flutist said. Now the choice has been taken from them.
"We wanted to do something that's funny, that uses humor as opposed to being directly provocative," Attwell said. Something "couched in humor is a little easier to digest. But evidently not."