The sordid UK hoopla around aspiring Zimbabwean singer Gamu Nhengu

Oct 11, 2010

Gamu Nhengu has in recent weeks become famous in the UK and amongst internet-connected Zimbabweans all over the world. The young Zimbabwean took part in a UK musical competition show, The X Factor, and apparently almost everyone agrees she did extremely well. She and was well liked by both the studio audience as well as those watching at home on television.

However, to the surprise of most who are passionate about the show and saw her performance, and the consternation of many, she was not chosen by the celebrity judges to go on to the final rounds of the competition.

So what, a reader may ask? We all face disappointment, it's part of life. Besides, it's only a music show, so life will go on, she will have other chances, she's young and very talented, it's not the end of the world.

Except that it's not quite that simple! The firestorm of outrage over her being rejected for the next round in favor of two young white Britons became a huge talking point in the UK media, spilling over onto the many Zimbabwe-focused internet sites.

Race is inevitably at the center of much of the discusssion. The celebrity judge who broke the news of failing to go through is reported to have received death threats and been accused of racism in some quarters.

The passions over issues to do with immigration into the UK also took center stage. Gamu's mum Nokutula Ngazana, a nurse in Scotland, is threatened with deportation over allegations that she claimed tax benefits she was not entitled to. If deported, Gamu and her two younger siblings as her dependent would have to go too. There has been speculation, unproven, that the shows organizers may have had prior knowledge of the Nhengu's immigration troubles. Suspicions that she was passed over in favor of contestants who flubbed their performances for that reason have outraged her many supporters and gained her even more sympathy.

The affair has created such a huge fracas that we will probably never know the facts other than the most obvious, apparent ones. Everybody including the show's organizers are trying to escape blame for what threatens to be a public relations disaster for them.

Gamu's singing talent does not seem to be in doubt. Even the celebrity judge who delivered the bad news to her onstage was full of praise for it. This further confounded many of Gamu's fans and supporters at the turn of events, especially when two of the contestants who were chosen over her stumbled in their performances.

Many of the flood of UK media reports have also gone out of their way to mention what a nice person Gamu is, adding to the flood of sympathy for her. She has a brilliant smile, and has been pictured with tears rolling out of her wide eyes down to her full cheeks. It further cements the image of an adorable, talented woman-child who has been done wrong.

But then things become very complicated, then ridiculous and even absurd. And as of this writing, on October 10, the saga surrounding Gamu is far from over, and may become even more absurd.

Will Gamu, her mum and two siblings get deported? It has been reported that they are not entitled to appeal the decision, but an appeal has been submitted by lawyers acting for the family anyway. It also remains to be seen what effect the pressure from tens of thousands of Gamu's supporters (of her talent and of the family's right to stay on in the UK) will have on the British government. But in a way they have been put in a box over the situation, and it is likely to be politically untenable to deport them, regardless of what the law actually says for situations such as this.

Why? Because politics, The Zimbabwe Crisis, has come into play in a major if ridiculous way. Gamu simply can't be deported....because the singer is understood to be terrified of returning to Zimbabwe, where it is said her public profile in the UK may make her a target of Robert Mugabe!

"I've been in the public eye now and people there know I've fled Mugabe's regime," she told the News of the World. "They will punish us if we go back. They're going to know where we are. There's a firing squad waiting for us there and they're putting me in front of it."

Mugabe may be guilty of many sins, but I don't think even his most ardent political opponents in Zimbabwe would say that he would feel in any way bothered by the political or economic asylum-seeking of a young aspiring singer! Millions be said to have 'fled Mugabe's regime,' if you loosely broaden that to include the perhaps 99% who fled not so much persecution but an economic meltdown that at its worst involved incalculable rates of inflation.

hether this is what she actually said or whether the UK 'News of the World' paper made it up for her to sex up its story will never be known, but doesn't really matter now anyway. From being merely an issue of fairness or the lack of it on a music show, or the the more serious but not earth-shaking one of the family's legal status in the UK it has suddenly morphed into a human rights issue. Another front in the fight against the-man-the-UK-most-loves-to-hate, Robert Mugabe!

Now all on his own steam, Mugabe has accumulated a lot to answer for in his 30 years as ruthless ruler of Zimbabwe. And yes, millions of Zimbabweans have in recent years emigrated, the UK hosting perhaps the second highest number of them after South Africa. Mugabe's government is repressive, but the vast majority of Zimbabwean migrants are economic rather than political refugees.

The 'firing squad' quote attributed to Gamu is so ridiculous, so absurd that in trying to 'help' her family stay in the UK, this and other publications have gone so over the top that they may have harmed that family more than helped.

Gamu moved to the UK five years ago at 13 to join her mother studying and then working there. The mother has not claimed that she fled Zimbabwe on political grounds. Reports seem to suggest that even in Zimbabwe she led a middle class life, though as affected as every other Zimbabwean by the roller coaster economic and political turmoil of that time. But because of the complicated relationship between Britain and Zimbabwe, particularly in the last ten years that the Mugabe government targeted once white-owned farms for takeover, the two countries' governments have been involved in a bitter propaganda war in which virtually everything is fair game to use as a weapon against the other.

In Zimbabwe the government media robustly plays its part against (some) things British. In the the UK most of the media may be private, but hatred of all things remotely to do with Mugabe is visceral and the media needs nobody's bidding to lash out against him at any opportunity.

Poor adorable young woman Gamu just wanted a fair shot at the chance of a singing career, fame and fortune that the X Factor seemed to tantalisingly dangle before her. And like many of the thousands of Zimbabweans in the UK, she and her family would like to stay there.

The vast majority of Zimbabweans there by hook or crook may not have a political bone in their body. But because of the particular British loathing for Mugabe and the propaganda war between his government and not just several successive UK governments but the British media establishment as well, seeking political asylum on the basis of claimed persecution by Mugabe's government has been a way for many Zimbabweans to stay on in the UK. Because they are from Mugabe-land, the political and immigration authorities have been inclined to be more lenient in considering asylum requests from Zimbabweans claiming to be 'fleeing Mugabe's regime' than they would be those from many other countries in much worse political and economic straits, but which are not ruled by somebody as polarizing and hated-by-the-British as Mugabe!

In their disappointment and sadness at Gamu's X Factor misfortune, and in their panic at the prospect of being deported from their now beloved UK, the hapless Nhengu family has been caught up in the great war of the British (public, political and media establishments, etc.) against the reviled Mugabe.

Another example of the absurd field day much of the UK media, especially that section of it usually rabidly anti-immigration, is having ostensibly in support of Gamu, but really at her expense:

Robert Mugabe plans a hero's welcome for Gamu Nhengu

Sunday October 10,2010

By Bryan Graham and Paula Murray

ROBERT MUGABE yesterday waded into the row surrounding axed X Factor star Gamu Nhengu by plotting to use her looming deportation in anti-British propaganda.

The Sunday Express has learned, however, that Mugabe’s regime plans to use the decision to send Gamu back to Zimbabwe to boost his own popularity.

The brutal dictator vowed to capitalise on the furore with sources saying senior officials in Zimbabwe were “rubbing their hands with glee.”

Mugabe, 86, plans to give the singer a hero’s welcome, turning her into a poster girl for a hate campaign against “heartless” Britain. Richard Chibvongodze, a senior official in the department of internal affairs, said Gamu’s return could be a major coup for the despised leader, whose dictatorship has left thousands dead and millions in poverty.

It's hard to keep up with the twists and turns of this increasingly sad and depressing soap opera. Gamu is one day reported to be worried that because of her powerful singing and new found fame/notoriety she might be shot by the venal Mugabe if she returns to Zimbabwe for having 'fled' in the first place. The next day the media says no, the diabolically clever Mugabe will not shoot her after all, he will welcome her with open arms as a propaganda counter-attack against the British who cruelly wouldn't let her win their singing competition!

There is no 'department of internal affairs' in Zimbabwe's government structures, and I would like to know if anyone can prove the existence of a 'Richard Chibvongodze' in that non-existent department!'

The Daily Express then goes on to quote their 'Richard Chibvongodze' informant as saying “The politburo are rubbing their hands in glee. This will demonstrate to Zimbabweans the British are heartless and will never do anything to assist citizens of this country.

Confusing but presumably reassuring Gamu and those who buy the firing squad canard, the Daily Express writes their 'Richard Chibvongodze' said, “Nokutula Ngazana and her family were not asylum seekers. They left this country perfectly legally, so won’t be in trouble when they return.”

Phew, no Mugabe firing squad will await Gamu at Harare airport after all then, what a relief! But it would still be better for the family to be allowed to stay in the UK (cynical me reading between the lines) in order to deprive Mugabe any chance of using Gamu to lob propaganda grenades against Britain! Must not be allowed to happen, bend the immigration rules in this case if necessary for that not to happen!

In claiming fear of persecution, a ridiculous claim for a non-political person of 18 who 'fled Mugabe's regime' at the tender age of 13 Gamu is doing nothing that thousands of Zimbabweans haven't done in the UK. The authorities surely by now, if they didn't at the beginning of 'The Zimbabwe Crisis,' that the overwhelming majority of these claims are spurious. But it suited the British establishment (political and media) to depict Zimbabwe as being in worse crisis than far more troubled but friendlier-to-Britain countries, or at least those who hadn't deprived white farmers of mostly British stock of their farms. So it is an open secret that seeking asylum in the UK for Zimbabweans has been a massive scam, but one done with the full, winking knowledge and cooperation of the British authorities because of their deep antipathy for Mugabe.

Suppose Gamu, her mother and siblings get to stay in the UK as they seem likely to do. Gamu will get over her X Factor disappointment and do other things, in music or other fields. But she will have paid an extremely high price for staying in the UK in this dubious, high-profile way. It is a way dubiously used by thousands of Zimbabweans to stay in that country, by they do not have the distinct disadvantage of having their tales of what they fear will happen to them if Mugabe gets his claws on them embellished by the UK tabloids, then splashed all over the world.

In one week she has gone from being supported by the Zimbabwean diaspora for both her talent and for what even her British fans conside to be shabby treatment by the X Factor show, to being ridiculed for in turn ridiculing her country. That is a very tall order because most Zimbabewan diasporans can probably safely be assumed to be anti-Mugabe. But they make a clear distinction between Mugabe and the country of Zimbabwe, whereas when it suits them, as in this case, the UK media will often conflate the two entities into one. So the attempt to ridicule Mugabe in Gamu's case has included making outlandishly ridiculous claims about the situation in Zimbabwe.

There is nothing new about this for the UK media, but even if Gamu and family are allowed to stay in the UK, they presumably do not want to cut ties with Zimbabwe. But because of the circus they have been unwittingly dragged into, the Gau that last week won the hearts, support and sympathy of Zimbabweans all over the world for her talent and grace will this week have lost a lot of that goodwill because of the falsehoods about the situation in their country attributed to her.

Back in Zimbabwe she will not be in any more danger from firing squads or any other arm of the repressive government there than before those absurd claims were made, whether really by her or the interviewing British tabloid. But she is also likely to face resentment from many Zimbabweans, even those who may not care for their ruler Mugabe, but who do take exception to her being used to tarnish and ridicule the country by a Mugabe-hostile British media.

Zimbabwe has so many genuine problems, so many real examples of on-going political persecution that it seems silly for the UK media, which lovingly chronicles Zimbabwe's many real problems at every opportunity, to be so apparently needy to take a dig at Mugabe to use an 18-year old aspiring singer to do so. It smacks of a real desperation about a Mugabe who has vexed them, and many (most?) Zimbabweans by staying on for 30 years of strong-arm rule and declining standards of living.

Meanwhile the Mugabe of their wrath is for once genuinely innocent of this latest crime he is accused of being about to commit, executing Britain's one beloved singing illegal immigrant, Gamu! If anything, by their usually shrill but unusually shoddy mixing of advocating for Gamu by demonising a completely uninvolved Mugabe, the British media have instead given Mugabe the appearance of super-human powers. The propaganda coup one tabloid warned Mugabe was preparing for on Gamu's deportation has already been won by him, without him lifting a figure or saying a word. Rather than cementing the image of Mugabe as a devil presiding over hell, the over-the-top UK media has simply succeeded in ensuring that next time they write about him, more of their discerning readers, abroad if not at home, will question what is fiction and what is truth in their reports. Mugabe appears to have 'won' by so enraging the UK media that their quite prepared to attribute deeds and words to him that are so outlandish that even some of his many opponents cringe in embarrassment on behalf of that UK media.

When the UK media tires of Gamu's usefulness as a new way for them to try to illustrate the evils of Mugabe, how will Gamu and family fare amongst her fellow Zimbabweans in the UK and at home? After she has been used and forgotten by a British establishment eager for any opportunity to paint a picture of a not just troubled but a hell-on-earth-under-Mugabe of a country, will the possible hostility and loss of face from her community at the smears on the whole Zimbabwe nation be worth it in exchange for a UK visa?


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