I’m the gatekeeper,
Spread your legs,
Open up,
You could be famous,
If you come up anywhere else, I’ll erase you
Drink up, bitch, we got champagne by the cases
Don’t you know? Don’t you know? …
You know we’re holding the dreams that you’re chasing
You know you’re supposed to get drunk and get naked

  • Gatekeepers by Jessie Reyez (from the album: Kiddo, 2017)

Zimbabwe has been blessed with the gift of the creative which has seen a lot of young and old people rising to be famous and making money in the process. The success list has included the likes of Rocky, Stunner, Winky D and the Jah Prayzahs of this world. Because of this perceived potential fame and lucrativeness of this art industry, many people, old and young, have tried or have flocked to join this industry.

Sidenote 1: The Highcost of Entering The Arts Industry

Because the rewards of the art industry are fame and money, it means that the channels and platforms of accessing both of those are limited and hence are only held by a few people, thus, you will need connections and approval of that few in order to make it. For example, as a Bulawayo creative, the platforms to showcase your art include Festivals, the gallery events and perfoming at Clubs or at other events.

Defining Gatekeepers

Now that we have agreed that the cost of getting into the arts industry are high and are controlled by a few and MANY people want to enter that industry so as to get a share of the cake of fame and money; Gatekeepers are the few people who tightly control who enters the industry. They are termed Gatekeepers because they keep the proverbial gate to the new artist success.

How do gatekeepers abuse their power in the art industry?

The first way gatekeepers in the Bulawayo arts industry (or in any industry) is that they can close the gate to the start and success of careers of people within the industry. This could mean ‘advising’ some other holders of power against working with some people in the industry because of their personal skirmishes or when the new entrant refuses to pander to them. One might disagree and say that no-one can hold down a talented person and that no gatekeeper has real power to end careers. This might be true but unhelpful because the world works on perceptions and it is the perception of power that will affect the psyche and the mentality of the new artist that will make them to bend down to the demands of the gatekeeper.

Secondly, the gatekeeper can demand sexual favours from the new artist in order to open doors. Two disclaimers: firstly, consensual sex without duress is really great and I might add – encouraged (even among artists) & secondly, the sexual demands for furthering careers is not an exclusively arts industry thing, but exists across industries and across disciplines. If we are to agree that bosses at work can demand sex for promotion, we shouldn’t find it hard to believe veteran artist in the industry can demand sex in order to promote a new artist career.

Lastly, gatekeepers in the industry abuse their power by protecting members of the clique. What this means is that the people who are already in power and have connections to media sources and over other artist and will protect one of theirs who are powerful. What this means is that if one of the members is accused of harassment or rape, they will go at lengths to make sure that the news medias and other artist deny the testimony of the victim, protect the perpetrator and further victimize the victim

What can we do about gatekeepers?

There has been a cry that people who accuse gatekeepers are either bitter artists or former lovers or liars. This might be true. I mean humans can be cruel creatures who can choose to be cruel for no apparent reason. However, my reasoning is always simple: what if the accusers are telling the truth? If me and you are to dismiss the accusers in order to silence them, aren’t we playing exactly to the script of the powerful? Aren’t we protecting those in power?

On the question on what we can do, there are few things I recommend. Firstly, always believe the victim unless there is overwhelming contrary evidence – you should err on the side of justice. Secondly, boycott the events and the art that the gatekeepers create. For these artist to feel the pinch of harassment is to strike where it will hurt them most – that is, their art. Lastly, don’t oppose the victims – there are those who take a spirited effort in opposing the victims, do not be one of them.

Mthokozisi Mabhena is a Bulawayo based art consumer, a sometimes creative and entrepreneurship student.