Zimbabwe Bans Pop Group Over a Chicken

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The authoritarian African nation of Zimbabwe has banned the popular South African group Freshlyground in retaliation for a recent music video that depicts Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe transforming into a chicken. Mugabe's oppressive and occasionally violent rule has drawn harsh international condemnation for years, but Freshlyground carries special cultural weight in the region. The group joined with Shakira earlier this year to record the official song of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, "Waka Waka (This Time for Africa)."

The offending song, "Chicken for Change," is a reaction against the 2008 election in Zimbabwe, which was expected to oust the unpopular Mugabe but was ultimately met with widespread allegations of fraud and intimidation. It describes the hope in Zimbabwe before the election and attacks the president as uncaring about Zimbabwean people or problems. The colorful video shows a Muppet-like Mugabe ignoring his citizens, but later turning into a chicken when confronted by two chicken-wielding farmers. Here's the video:

Insulting Mugabe is a crime in Zimbabwe. Sky News's Tom Bonnett and Richard Williams, contextualizing the ban, explain, "Ridiculing Mugabe is illegal in Zimbabwe. Disrespectful gestures towards his car can result in arrest and it's common for people to be briefly locked up for insulting the president." They add, "Some band members have been questioning whether to boycott Zimbabwe, he said. Now the choice has been taken from them."

Freshlygound's music is a distinctly South African blend of blues, rock, and especially the Zulu roots music known as mbaqanga. Paul Simon brought mbaqanga music to American audiences with his popular 1986 album, Graceland.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.