The 17th edition of the National Art Merit Awards (Nama) held in Harare on the 17th of February presented stakeholders in the arts industry with a rare opportunity to meet the minister of Sport, Arts, and Recreation who doubles up as Mazowe West Member of Parliament. Hon Kazembe Kazembe is known for the horror he went through on the afternoon of the 9th of September 2017 when the then-first lady Dr. Grace Mugabe called him out in front of thousands of Zanu PF supporters in Bindura.
Despite the poor showing and controversy surrounding the awards, organizers of the annual awards have continued to soldier on to deliver on their undertaking. Perhaps it is important to unpack the Minister’s words and see if the arts industry can get an idea of what government is planning.The minister acknowledges that arts can sustain the nation and offer a distinctive brand of benefits that include employment creation and contribution to the Gross Domestic Product. However, there is something we need to differ on here and this has to do with funding.
“As part of the government priority, my ministry is seriously giving attention to the creation of a funding framework that will not only consolidate what is already on the ground, but establish a new and supportive environment that supports productivity,”It is important to note that the artists who were part of the Namas that night may be from different disciplines but are equally affected by adversities that have militated against the overall arts industry growth in the past two decades. The thinking that arts will grow through funding is not in sync with the new economics.The government has no money.There are huge priorities that the new dispensation is faced with and it is important to doubt this message and its intention as this is not new.
Most artists will agree that it is not funding persee that is required.The minister there is missing the point.Arts can never survive with funding alone.No government can fully take up the burden of funding arts sustainably.The idea is to boldly pursue the latter part of his speech and establish a supportive environment that enables art to be legally distributed to the audience profitably.It must be the simple and right thing to do.
The minister does not need to write volumes about funding or speak to his colleague in the Finance ministry. No! He needs to deal with deeper structural issues affecting arts including but not limited to;
1)The cancer of piracy-by dispensing enforcing laws that forbid the sale of pirated music, literary works, artifacts and any creative works. The economy needs creative thinking around piracy. Instead of simply arresting those pirating, the government must embrace them as potential distributors but ensure they sell genuine copies. There has been many workshops on copyrights but the cancer keeps growing on the streets unabated and artists losing millions of dollars which could sustain them and the industry.
2)The democratization of space to enable new players into the industry. A lot of innovative young Zimbabwean creatives have defied the adverse environment to learn, create and grow their craft without any support but sadly most will run out of steam one day.
Producers Levels and Fantan confirmed(during a recent Ruvheneko Live programme) that art in Zimbabwe faces a huge conundrum from politics as the working environment is hazardous.Artists are unable to fully express themselves and this is also important to the minister as he crafts his policy on art.We must have a comedy industry that is capable of growing without any threats on anyone. We must be able to see the Owen Masekos running exhibitions without fear of arrest. Having a music industry that allows musicians to sing without limits.Presidential advisor Cde Chris Mutsvangwa mentioned Jah Prayzah as a victim to this challenge saying it is not a good thing to persecute an individual because of their art.
3)Radio and Television licensing to enable specialist stations into the market.Part of the problem is that we also have limited content distribution facilities for various pieces of art in the country.The radio stations in the country are dancing to the whims of advertisers and our sole TV station remains polarised and uninspiring. It is sad.Zimbabwe needs specialist radio stations that grow various genres.
Back in the 1990s when the likes of Leonard Dembo,Leonard Zhakata,Simon Chimbetu and other legends were earning a living from their recording companies through sales and royalties from radio, there was no or little talk of funding.It’s simple.The industry survived on its own without the funding which we see there.Actually, the government used to derive tax revenue from the industry.
4) Reclaiming of community creative spaces and venues that have been taken over by churches and politicians. There is a genuine need for the arts sector to find working spaces where they can practice, perfect and showcase their craft. Urban municipalities and rural district councils have to ensure every community has its own space where artists and creative players can easily access and grow. It will be interesting to see the Minister champion the cause and make those recreational spaces accessible again.
5. Of creative positions being run by non-creative people. As much as we expect to see change it will be of great interest to see how the Minister is going to reconstitute the National arts Council, Censorship Board and other institutions that relate to the industry. Most of these offices are occupied by people who have little clue on the operation and fast changing dynamics of the arts globally and its impact and relation to Zimbabwe as we open up for business.
6. Coming to an end of a mortgage! Our arts sector has for long been mortgaged to the West. Most technical, financial and human support has been coming from the West. In fact foreign missions operating in Zimbabwe have more understanding, information, and contact with the arts scene than the entire government.
Their contribution to the growth of the arts sector has been incredibly remarkable but has also created a syndrome which has seen great initiatives dying once the plug was pulled. An example is Chimanimani Arts Festival, Book Cafe and many other noble projects that stopped when the donors left. This also explains why giving handouts to the sector won’t be a long-term solution in creating a viable and sustainable industry.
The idea is to find out where Kazembe Kazembe is, ask him to deal with these structural bottlenecks by doing away with things that are retarding the growth of arts in Zimbabwe.There has to be government support especially given the revenue potential that this industry has. There is massive potential to revive the sector and make it an industry catering for various creative processes and not only music.
Norman Theodore Maf is an arts researcher, business strategist, and a passionate arts developmental writer.He is a consultant in areas of markets and marketing.His work focuses on African music and prospects for growth, synergies, and transformation. He will be contributing to EARGROUND weekly.
Hon Kazembe : Image courtesy of The Zimbabwe Daily