Leveraging the arts, culture and heritage to enhance productivity

Admire KUDITA

RIDING around with his flying deers, he makes global rounds to deliver toys and gifts to millions of children across the world. He wears a red suit and has a white beard. Usually, your home has to have a chimney so that he can come down and leave gifts for your child. So the fold tales go.

I have been thinking about Santa, more so after President Emmerson Mnangagwa attended the Cultural and Creative Industries Indaba held at the Bulawayo Rainbow Hotel under the theme: Leveraging Arts, Culture and Heritage for Enhanced Productivity, Job Creation and Economic Growth where he had a conversation with artists.

He was accompanied by his wife, cabinet ministers and senior government officials. It felt like Santa had visited early.However I do not know of anyone who has ever received a gift from Santa.

Santa government

Government itself is a sort of Santa to its beholder. I was in Harare and I did come across some of the chosen ones driving around in big fuel guzzling vehicles. Well, if you are inside Pick n Pay supermarket, just to ogle the goodies which the blessed ones take for granted, you just know that even if you cannot afford them, there are those who can and will fill their trolleys with the finer things in life. Santa Claus by the way, is a part and parcel of Western mythology. He is known as Father Christmas and even though everyone knows he is a big lie, it seems that everyone has tacitly agreed to perpetuate the hoax from generation to generation because it makes business sense.

Seeing as his deers are normally depicted as thriving in the snow, I wondered till recently how he would fare in the Savanna grasslands of Matabeleland. But I digress.

Arts indaba

The following is a list of responses from the ‘captains’ of the creative and cultural sector in Bulawayo when Zimbabwe’s First Family came to the cultural hub of the country.

Josh Nyapimbi of Nhimbe Trust bankrolled the gig which the relevant ministry I am told seized upon to launch the National Arts and Culture policy. Nyapimbi, by ‘sleight’ of pocket, fed over a thousand artists in the two days including the dignitaries. A few weeks ago, I wrote that his trust scored a first in getting Bulawayo city fathers to declare the day it gained its status a holiday. So Nyapimbi does these sorts of things; lobby those sitting in high offices to help cultivate a conducive environment for the creative and cultural sector. That is the hype. So, the question was: What would bringing the president and his wife actually achieve except for a photo opportunity?

Division of labour

Some of the issues the artists raised are beneath his purview as a president, such as the issue of royalties to Zimbabwe Music Rights Association (Zimura) by ZBC and the clearance of foreign artists. Of course the President reportedly said yes even to the request for diplomatic passports by artists (with a disclaimer that a criteria needs to be drawn up). In my view, Zanu PF exceptionalism chimes too well with the exceptionalism of artists as a species.

Both crave attention and both love the grand stage. There is a co-dependency in that relationship. Apparently, a few artists had their pieces bought at the National Gallery in Bulawayo and I understand Jeys Marabini has been invited to State House.

So yep, there is a sense in which the artists, or maybe just some of them have arrived at their proverbial mountain. Apparently, the President was said to be thrilled by the artists’ clarity of ideas etc. Wow, it was a right feast!

So for all the hoopla, Mnangagwa came, charmed and conquered as the artists frothed and chortled that for once they had been heard. Founder and director of Iyasa (Inkuleleko Yabatsha School of Arts) Nkululeko Innocent Dube said: “I think the greatest achievement was that we finally got a one-on-one audience with the leadership of the country. That is a starting point. Mnangagwa and his ministers gave us an ear and we can safely say they have a first-hand appreciation of what our sector is going through. Results will be seen as time goes but l feel the foundation for a way forward was laid. The event was a ground breaking occasion and a milestone in our generation. We have never and l cannot remember when we had an opportunity to deliberate on issues affecting us with the country’s presidency. Let us give this a chance. Surely, it is a process and that event was just the beginning”.

While founder and director of Umkhathi Theatre Works, Matesu Dube said: “According to me, this was a good initiative that led us to meet the President to hear our concerns as artists. This was the first ever meeting for the artists with the President of this country. We presented our concerns and the President had to respond to that and gave tasks to his ministers to see that there is action on our concerns. One good thing is that from that meeting the President knows that there are artists out there who know what they want. So from now onwards it will be easy to engage the presidium on issues that affects the arts”.

Parting shot

As a creative, I refused to attend the circus and yes it does not make me a hero. I do not like repetition. There was nothing new except the cast at the arts indaba. The script is the same and the issues raised by artists have one real source and it is structural. It is not the unfunded National Arts Council’s typically lethargic bureaucrats or even the relevant ministry per se, as some of them think. Consider this: ease of doing business in the creative and cultural industries must of necessity imply that there is actual business taking place in the country at large. An orchestra without a conductor cannot reasonably make any music. The economic waters are as murky as ever and yet for Bulawayo artists, hope rises and egoes glisten in our general darkness. And it’s all in a day’s work for Bulawayo’s arts captains and the government.

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