The Sunday News
Bruce Ndlovu, Sunday Life Correspondent
PAUL Matavire’s victim did not feel the so called Dr Love’s tender touch when he, alongside fellow Jairos Jiri band member Peter Mabvuwa, took turns to rape her in 1989.
While history will never know the name of this faceless visually impaired woman from Chiwundura Communal Lands, Matavire’s name appears destined to live forever in the annals of Zimbabwean music.
Despite such a stain in his reputation from an obviously heinous act, Matavire still occupies a soft spot in the hearts of Zimbabweans who recall his contributions to Zimbabwean music with fondness. The rape charge and conviction is usually the footnote to any conversation about the famous blind musician’s contribution to Zimbabwean music is brought up.
About 14 years after Matavire said goodbye to his jail cell, another Zimbabwean musician was to find himself in the crosshairs as a woman accused him of sexual abuse and exploitation.
A tearful Pamela Zulu accused one Mukudzeyi Mukombe, otherwise known as Jah Prayzah, of having used her sexually while she was still a part of his Third Generation band. It was a startling revelation by the heavyset Zulu, aptly named Gonyeti by the man she now fingered as her tormentor in chief.
However, Jah Prayzah and his camp maintained his innocence, describing the claims as sour grapes after Gonyeti had left the band.
Notheless, a year later, those accusations seem to have barely made a dent on Jah Prayzah’s career, and his stranglehold on the Zimbabwean music scene seems to be as strong as ever. Like Matavire before him, the conversation rarely strays to those unproven sexual abuse allegations when Jah Prayzah’s name comes up in conversation.
Over the past few weeks, Hollywood has been wrecked by allegations similar to those faced by Matavire and Prayzah. Heavyweights like House of Cards lead actor Kevin Spacey and comedians Louis C.K and Bill Cosby have been thrown under the bus as Hollywood cleans house. Each new day brings new allegations as high flying stars are rudely and mercilessly brought crashing down.
While the purge of rapists and abusers in Hollywood continues, sexual abuse is still largely an unspoken secret in Zimbabwean showbiz. As there is no smoke, many assume that a fire also does not exist.
However, according to female practitioners in the arts, the allegations are just the tip of the iceberg as most sexual abuse of women goes unreported, the showbiz scene is just full of the silent walking wounded.
Most stay quiet because of the fear of embarrassment and backlash. Gonyeti, for example, was attacked left, right and centre by platoons of Jah Prayzah’s followers who felt that she was merely trying to ruin the reputation of their beloved Soja.
“They can’t come out and report this abuse because there’s no protection,” said actress and model trainer Sarah Mpofu in an interview with Sunday Life.
“Even if you choose to speak out, you end up being accused of this and that. The abuse is not something new and we’ve all witnessed it through the years.”
Mpofu said when women were taken advantage of, some would not even realise it at the time.
“Sometimes women, especially young women, are pressured into these things and they feel like this is the only way to get ahead in their career. It’s only when they have been used and discarded and a new ‘thing’ comes along that they begin to see how they were used. At that point it is already too late to complain or do anything about it,” she said.
Mpofu said as most young upstarts are usually not confident to go it alone at the beginning of their careers they end up seeking a push from men who want to prey on them. However, she pointed out that even those that are single-minded in their determination to succeed on their own usually find themselves at the mercy of predatory men.
“Even if you’re professional, these men still come after you. This is not only a problem in showbiz but everywhere in most professional set-ups in Zimbabwe,” she said.
Having earned her stripes in the world of showbiz and entertainment, Mpofu is usually not the type of woman singled out for abuse by lustful men. Instead, like lions stalking the young in the wild, men usually go for those they think are weak, which in most cases turns out to be young women.
One of the country’s premier female wheel spinners, DJ Liz, said that to avoid abuse, her work usually started a while before she got her hands on a pair of decks.
“You hear a lot of stories about what men do to female performers because we get hired for gigs and it’s usually not for our talent but for other reasons.
When you get booked out of town, you hear someone saying that you’ve got to sleep at their house and that’s where the most abuse occurs.
“To avoid this, I never travel without getting proof of payment from the place where I’ll be staying and I also don’t travel alone. I also make sure that I don’t take open drinks because when that happens you will be thinking these people are friendly only to find yourself sleeping where you’re not supposed to be later on,” she said.
Liz added that desperation to earn also drove women to grab whatever offer is put on the table.
“Artistes in Bulawayo are desperate for bookings and that’s where things go wrong because if you take a booking in Gwanda and you find out you have to sleep at someone’s place, you can’t turn back,” she said.
For women in dance groups, the abuse takes various forms. According to Cleopatra Khumalo of Shosholoza Girls dance group, men usually see them as little more than ladies of the night peddling their flesh for a quick buck.
“Someone will tell you that you should stop dancing and sleep with them because there’s not much money in dancing. Others feel like we’re all prostitutes so they just ask how much you charge for a sex session,” said Khumalo.