Comic faces jail if he jokes about his dad

Censors target Daliso Chaponda

Stand-up Daliso Chaponda is risking imprisonment for joking about his dad.

The UK-based comic, son of Malawi’s education minister Dr George Chaponda, will be monitored by members of his country’s draconian censorship board when he performs the first night of his Antisocial Commentator tour of Malawi and Zimbabwe tonight.

The board demanded to hear his routines in advance, after a ten-minute preview in Blantyre, Malawi’s largest city, earlier this month was misquoted by local tabloid The Weekend Times.

Chaponda, who began his stand-up career in Canada in 2001, talked about his gaffe-prone father, Malawi’s fuel crisis and recent changes to the national flag. But he believes it was his joking about President Bingu wa Mutharika’s Christmas address that really provoked the authorities.

In his speech, President Mutharika, whose administration has been criticised for its deteriorating human rights record and attacks on freedom of expression, blamed the devil for Malawi’s economic woes, stating: ‘I know that the devil has failed because in the year 2011 the devil sat on our back, the devil brought hatred anger and lies.’

‘It was possibly meant as a metaphor’ Chaponda says. ‘But for the joke's sake I responded as if exorcists were needed. The journalist's faulty transcription of the jokes additionally made them out to be more incendiary than I intended.

‘The next day I was contacted by the censorship board who wanted us to submit a script and get an entertainment permit, as the shows will have more tan 1,000 people each.  

‘My producer persuaded the board that most of the jokes I do are made up on stage so there is no script. So we submitted a summary and got a permit.  Some members of the censorship board will be at the shows and we are proceeding with caution.’

His tour starts at the Crossroads Hotel in the Malawian capital of Lilongwe tonight, and will also visit Harare and Bulawayo in Zimbabwe.

Malawi’s record on free speech was exposed last month when playwright and actor Thlupego Chisiza was arrested by armed police in Blantyre last month while performing Semo, a satire lampooning the government.

He initially denied failing to submit a script to the censor, but was charged with staging a play without a permit and pleaded guilty, paying a 5000 Malawi kwacha fine (about £20) rather than face six months imprisonment with hard labour. His co-writer, student activist Robert Chasowa died in suspicious circumstances in September, ruled as suicide by police.

More than a dozen people died when President Mutharika deployed the army to crush protests against his regime in July. He recently sought to expel the UK's high commissioner to Malawi after the diplomat expressed concern over his autocratic rule, and in August, sacked his entire cabinet and assumed every position himself, before installing new appointments that included several members of his own family.

Chaponda argues that ‘my jokes are light pokes, not an attack’ and that political cartoons in Malawian newspapers ‘are more critical than what I’m saying’.

‘There are a number of issues I will talk about such as the expulsion of the British ambassador. Jokes about sex and homosexuality may be volatile. But unlike artists who live here I have the luxury of flying out of the country after my shows. 

‘I am crossing pretty much the same number of lines as I did last year when I toured. I think the high profile of the shows I'm doing and my father's identity is what called attention to them more than the content.’

Dr Chaponda made international headlines in February, after he was accused of trying to criminalise farting by another senior Malawian official.

Published: 27 Jan 2012

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