Zimbabwe: Will There Ever Be a Stand-Alone Arts Ministry?

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For 38 years since Zimbabwe's independence, there has never been a single government ministry dedicated to the arts only. Yes, we understand the need for government to trim down its Cabinet and to save money, but if they ever thought that the arts were an important societal need, a separate ministry for the arts would have been created.

Since 1980, the arts have been moved around ministries. It began with the Sports, Recreation and Culture ministry, when Ernest Kadungure was at the helm, then it was moved to the Education, Sports, Arts and Culture portfolio under Fay Chung. From then onwards, it was removed from the education sector and went to the Sport, Recreation, Arts and Culture ministry, then to Rural Development, Preservation and Promotion of Culture and Heritage.

All these ministries have in the past dealt with the arts in a haphazard way. The arts have not been taken seriously at all by the respective ministries and moving them around ministries deeply affected their growth and continuity. It also affected their funding. For instance, during the period when arts was placed under the Education, Sports, Arts and Culture ministry, education took priority as over 90% of the budget allocated to that ministry went to it. Arts and culture became peripheral with less than 10% of the allocated budget.

Today, Kirsty Coventry, a sportsperson, has been allocated four portfolios: youth, sports, the arts and recreation. Soon she will be allocated a budget for her ministry. Will the funding be distributed equally among the four areas? Or will the arts suffer again, just like in the past? It is high time the ministry positioned itself for arts promotion in Zimbabwe. The reasons are obvious.

If we look at smaller countries like Jamaica, for instance, whose gross domestic product (GDP) depends heavily on tourism, which has survived due to the dynamic inspiration from the arts industry, one does not need to be a rocket scientist to make this observation. Every year, the whole world converges on that tiny island to watch music festivals such as Maroon Festival in St Elizabeth, Reggae Marathon in Negril, Liguanea Art Festival in Kingston, Rebel Salute in St Ann, Wickie Wackie Beach Festival in St Thomas and Mobay Reggae Festival in Montego Bay. In addition, tourists travel to Kingston to visit the Bob Marley Museum and the Peter Tosh Museum. Reggae music has had a significant influence on Jamaican tourism, hence the government there has prioritised the creative industries and built recording facilities in every parish as an engine for economic growth.

Kingston, the Jamaican capital, has the highest number of music recording studios per capita in the world.

India, in its 2018-2019 budget, has allocated $410 million to the arts because the government there has realised the importance of arts and culture in positively influencing the world. Through images such as Bollywood films, India has been placed on the world map as a major player in the arts industry.

The United States of America in its 2018-2019 budget provided $150 million to set up a National Endowment for the arts in order to promote and strengthen the creative capacity of artistes.

The arts play a major role by breaking down barriers. They promote cultural and racial diversity. Even in South Africa, when you look at bands such as Juluka, MiCasa and Freshlyground, their members, although coming from diverse backgrounds, are united through their arts. Thus, the arts unite people from different backgrounds and cultural heritage. Coventry, a white Zimbabwean, was appointed minister, no doubt, not only because of her winning the Olympics as a swimmer, but also due to her different cultural background.

We hope that Coventry, although seen more as a sportsperson, will not only embrace the sports fraternity, but will also deal favourably with the other sectors under her portfolio, especially the arts and recreation sectors.

Past ministries have left the National Arts Council of Zimbabwe (NACZ) to deal with the arts sector, but unfortunately the NACZ does not have a structured statutory fund for the promotion of the arts. The body merely registers and regulates arts organisations. Sometimes they demand payment from the artistes they are supposed to serve. For instance, when Botswana's Charma Girl came to Zimbabwe in 2014 to help Jah Prayzah launch his album where Charma Girl had collaborated with Jah Prayzah on one song, Dali Wangu, Jah Prayzah was asked to pay $2 000 to the NACZ because she was a foreign artiste likely to attract more crowds at the event. That kind of regulation limits artistes from being innovative.

The arts institute international brotherhood and sisterhood as well as peace and love. They have a therapeutic effect in human life and uplift people emotionally.

There is therefore need for an arts indaba, where all stakeholders are invited to discuss and create a framework for the implementation of key fundamentals for the arts. There is also need to seriously craft an arts policy document which will be used by all arts sectors. Work on such a document had begun. Minister Andrew Langa with his then permanent secretary, Thokozani Chitepo, first formulated the National Culture Policy Document, then Makhosini Hlongwane and lastly Kazembe Kazembe, but unfortunately these three did not even last long enough in their ministries to see this document through.

Ideally, according to several arts practitioners, a stand-alone ministry is what would work for the arts industry. This ministry would be solely responsible for libraries and museums, visual arts, performing arts, creative writing, films, heritage and culture in order to promote national identity and increased appreciation and understanding of Zimbabwean culture.

Partnerships should, however, be forged with other ministries such as Tourism, Information and Trade and Commerce in order for all sectors to benefit from the work of arts.

New pathways and support structures for young musicians, bands and acts who are engaging in music-making independently through their own exploration should be developed through funding for all.

Government should support organisations such as the Zimbabwe Union of Musicians which aim to represent musicians, negotiate on their behalf and improve their standing within the music industry, and help individual members. In return the union should be committed to trying to improve the "status and remuneration of musicians both absolutely and relatively". Services to their members should include general benevolent assistance, sickness or accident benefit, legal advice (contracts advisory service), instrument insurance, assistance in recovering unpaid fees from music promoters, a media rights collection and distribution service and regular seminars, clinics and workshops on the music business. The union will require funding to advance these activities.

Musicians and other artistes are anxious to meet Coventry, as the new minister, to discuss some of these aspects and it is hoped that this will happen soon.


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Publish date : 2018-10-08 14:12:50
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