They were billed as the final triumphant act in Zimbabwe’s biggest annual arts festival – until a four-year-old cartoon chicken got in the way.
Robert Mugabe, 90, showed just how long he bears a grudge at the weekend after his government refused to let South African group Freshlyground into Zimbabwe because of a satirical 2010 music video that portrayed the ageing leader as a rooster too scared to step down after three decades in power.
“We regret to announce that we were denied entry into Zim [on Sunday] … Reasons not given. We are hugely disappointed. Cluck cluck cluck,” tweeted Freshlyground, best known for performing the 2010 World Cup anthem Waka Waka with Shakira.
The afrosoul band was due to play for more than 4,000 fans during the closing show of the Harare International Festival of the Arts (HIFA) on Sunday night. But they were deported shortly after arriving at Harare International Airport earlier in the day.
State media said the authorities had decided that the band’s members were not “acceptable visitors” because of their Chicken to Change song.
The group had been banned from performing at a concert in Zimbabwe soon after Freshlyground and South African cartoonist Jonathan Shapiro launched the video in 2010.
It shows a Spitting Image-style puppet of Mr Mugabe riding in a presidential limo. He is reading a copy of “Bob’s Times” with the headline “Glorious victory for Zanu-PF” – in what now looks very much like a prediction of the president’s controversial victory over opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai in last July’s polls.
Singer Zolani Mahola starts by praising the president as “an iridescent example of honour for the coming generation” but then says he is “chicken to change” as Mr Mugabe, still in his limo, turns into a bespectacled rooster.
The rooster is the symbol of Zanu-PF, while “change” is the slogan of Mr Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change party. Mr Tsvangirai still insists Mr Mugabe’s win was fraudulent.
The Zimbabwean Sunday Mail said the video made Mr Mugabe look “frail and ugly”.
As music fans and government critics took to social media to vent their disappointment, Zimbabwe’s immigration department claimed yesterday that the decision to deport Freshlyground was purely due to the fact that the band members did not have valid work permits.
But Freshlyground said in a statement the group had followed “all requisite permit requirements” and had been led to believe it would be allowed in. Festival organisers said they had clearance from the local board of censors. But government officials accused HIFA of deliberately pushing a confrontation.
UK-based Zimbabwean journalist Lance Guma tweeted: “Mugabe regime does not understand how the media works. By deporting @FRESHLYGROUNDsa they have brought world attention to a 4-year-old song.”