Undeterred by being arrested three times in six months for tweets protesting about graft, outspoken Zimbabwean journalist Hopewell Chin’ono has turned to song to get his message across.
In a video that has gone viral, Chin’ono has released a short free-styled reggae dance-hall track, titled Dem Loot — “They Loot” — in which he chastises rampant state corruption in the southern African country.
The song has sparked a #DemLootChallenge on Twitter and prompted versions in other genres including jazz and acapella, and using the country’s traditional instrument, the mbira.
Chin’ono is seen looking poker-faced in his study as he sings in a mix of pidgin English and vernacular Shona, one of Zimbabwe’s official languages.
“Lord have mercy, mercy, mercy; hospitals no medication, dem loot; ghetto youths no jobs, dem loot; no water to drink in townships, dem loot,” go the lyrics.
Chin’ono said he recorded the “spur-of-the-moment” track just three days after exiting the gates of a maximum security prison, where he had been held for nearly three weeks in pre-trial custody on charges relating to a tweet.
“I was in my study (and) was just playing music and then I started singing about this because it was on my mind,” he said, referring to shortages of protective gear in Zimbabwe’s hospitals.
“And I just sort of compressed what I was thinking about during the day into a song and then posted it on Tweeter and it went viral,” he said.
He was surprised by the response to what he thought “was a Sunday joke — the message is something I say everyday on Twitter and Facebook.”
Chin’ono was arrested last July for tweeting that an opposition political party was planning nationwide demonstrations against President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government.
In November, he was picked up for pre-empting a judicial decision before it was handed down.
And on January 8, he was arrested for a third time for sharing a video he claimed showed a police officer beating a baby to death.
Last week he was freed on bail, but banned from using his Twitter account to post anything that might incite the public to revolt against the government.