Author: Florence Mukanga
The political history of Zimbabwe can be sub divided into three phases. These are the pre- colonial, colonial and post colonial eras. All these periods have had influences on cultural policy of Zimbabwe.
Through the first phase cultural policy was neither written nor comprehensive. In the pre-colonial era no such exercise would have been possible. The various ethnic groups that constituted small nations could not have been expected to write down their codes of conducts, and manner of preserving their cultural identity.
The second phase was the colonial period. For this period no comprehensive studies have been undertaken on the policy guidelines used by local authorities and central government during the colonial period to guide cultural practice in the pre-independent Zimbabwe and yet most of what exists today in term of structures of cultural governance, statues, institutions and infrastructure are what retained from Rhodesia. Although the colonial cultural policy action was comprehensive and documented in various fields of human endeavour such as education, social development (urban areas) economic and political spheres, there was no single document that outlined cultural policy. It can only be inferred piecemeal from various laws and regulations that impinge on cultural practice.
For instance the policy of denying that Africans built the Great Zimbabwe Monument was a fundamental cultural policy expressed in various forms most of which were not written but solidly legislated in such a manner that most of the institutions and facts about culture were in the hands of the Ministry responsible for police and law and order.
Most of the policies and legislation segregated the traditional African culture. Owen Seda (2004:136) observes that, ‘in colonial Rhodesia, cultural and social life had been marked by forced separation, prejudice and cultural polarisation.’ Kaarsholm affirms this by saying: In the narrowly exclusive Rhodesian colonial cosmology, dramatic and other cultural modes of expression of black Africans were firmly situated outside the boundaries of art or culture and relegated to the dark hinterlands of anthropology (1990, p.249)
A number of racially exclusive statutes were enacted to foster the system of segregating black arts and culture from those of the white people. These included National Galleries of Rhodesia Act (Chapter 312) 1974, the Welfare Organisations Act (Chapter 93) 1967 and The National Arts and Foundation Act which was derived from the Charter of the Arts Council of Great Britain (1967).The later operated in a similar way, â€—at arm’s length‘, with a National Board in the capital city and nine District Arts Councils based in smaller towns.
In 1980 Zimbabwe became independent. This marked a new era for the country in terms of cultural policy action, though the country inherited most of its pieces of legislation from the colonial era. The new government recognised the important role which arts and culture played during the liberation struggle. The new government was determined to redress the imbalances that had been created by the colonial government.The government came up with policies that were meant to bridge the gap that existed between black and white people’s arts and culture. These efforts were backed by pieces of legislation enacted to regulate the sector. In some cases it was just a matter of amending the old colonial legislation to accommodate black artists who were segregated before. The new legislation enacted includes the National Arts Council of Zimbabwe Act of 1985 and National Library and Documentation Act 11 of 1985.
Post Independence Experiences
Zimbabwe attended the UNESCO World Conference on Cultural Policies held in Mexico City, 26 July - 6 August 1982. After this conference, one of the chief cultural officers in the Department of Culture who accompanied the Minister of Education and Culture to the World Conference Dr. Edward Ndlovu was tasked to lead the process of formulating the national cultural policy of Zimbabwe. This exercise was soon disrupted by the transfer of the culture function from the Ministry of Education to the then Ministry of Youth Sports, Culture and Recreation.
At the new ministry , the Department of Culture that was headed by the late Cuthbert Musiwa, soon faced serious challenges of fitting the culture function in a ministry that had forged very solid youth programmes which were significantly dovetailed with the youth programs of the ruling party’s political structures.
In the Ministry of Youth Sports and Culture, the scope of the task of formulating a national cultural policy was bogged down by the difficulties the Division of Culture faced when it tried to relate to other departments that had responsibilities for culture such as the Museums and Monuments Commission; the National Archives and the Censorship Board in the Ministry of Home Affairs; the audio visual services in the Ministry of Education; audio-visual industries and broadcasting institutions that were in the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting and traditional chiefs and the Chiefs Council that were in the Ministry of Local Government. Without a budget that could fund the hosting of consultative meetings, the Department of Culture found itself concerned with developing provincial and district structure that would enhance its status even if these replicated what other ministries with culture responsibilities had created - structures such as district and provincial arts councils, sports councils and youth councils did not only replicate grassroots structures but did not have budgets to fund their activities and secretariats of the structures at both district and provincial levels
In the absence of structures to relate to all institutions and departments that were responsible for some cultural functions, led to efforts of conceiving and formulating cultural policy document which were clearly not national and which could not be presented to Cabinet and other ministries with responsibilities for culture. Even the effort of prioritising the task of formulating a national cultural policy was not seen as a critical task of a department that was still trying to justify its existence and the value of culture.
When the culture function was returned back to the Ministry of Education through another cabinet reshuffle in early 1990s, the Department of Culture found itself spending a long period of trying to relate to new administrative structures that were dominantly focused on the education function and which at provincial level could not provide leadership to the provincial cultural officers who had moved back to the ministry. The return of the culture function to the Ministry of Education was seen by senior officers in education at the district and provincial level as indication that it was an insignificant function which could not be accommodate and whose return was to burden the all important education function. Just as there had been resistance to the introduction of cultural and sports education into the formal school curriculum , most of what the Division of Culture was advancing was not considered essential to achieve dominant objectives of education the ministry was expected to achieve.
During this period, the task of formulating the national cultural policy was led by the Department that was responsible for Cultural Institutions and Cultural Education. Unfortunately this department was pre-occupied with such ambitious national projects as the National Library and Documentation Services and the construction of 55 district cultural villages ,on the model of the Murewa Culture House, to justify the importance of the Division of Culture in general and the value of culture in particular. When funds to establish the National Library and Documentation Services and to install the audio-visual equipment for libraries and documentation centers which had been acquired through a bilateral agreement with France , did not materialize ,it seemed to indicate to many senior officers in the Ministry that the cultural function was not as an essential objective in the national development plan . This made it difficult for the Division of Culture to advocate for reasonable budgetary allocations for culture and for hiring qualified personnel that would handle the task of engaging other stakeholders outside the ministry in the formulation of a national cultural policy. The low priority of culture in the national development plans meant that the process of justifying the existence of the Division of Culture within the Ministry of Education had become the dominant pre-occupation rather than the coordination of all ministries with culture functions towards the development of a national cultural policy and a coherent implementation action plan.
In 1994, when a new Ministry of Sports Recreation and Culture was established, the efforts to initiate a broad -based dialogue for developing a national cultural policy were given a boost. My appointment as head of the ministry also assured some form of continuity in those efforts which had been initiated soon after 1982 UNESCO World Conference on Cultural Policies to formulate a comprehensive national cultural policy. These efforts were soon sidelined by the new Ministry’s dominant role in the hosting of All Africa Games and its leadership role in the development of programmes of SADC Arts and Culture Festivals and the SADC Information System (SACIS). However in spite of this and the consistent demand to justify its existence by taking on board projects that would receive publicity, the new ministry managed to initiate a strategy of facilitating cultural policy dialogues through round tables and collective action plans as well as regular contributions to the mass media about international organizations and initiatives of the SADC , OAU and UNESCO. This was driven by the hope that these discussions would build strong relations among all government department and parastatal institutions with responsibility for culture.
The UNESCO World Conference on Cultural Policies for Development held in Stockholm, Sweden in 1998 made the formulation of a comprehensive national cultural policy an urgent matter. Officials in the Division of Culture worked closely with the permanent secretary who had accompanied the minister of Education, Sports and Culture to the World Conference on Cultural Policies for Development, to create a base for a national consultation process in the development of a truly national cultural policy involving all the seven or so government departments and five parastatals that had some cultural functions. This period of hyper-activity in the cultural sector was motivated by the donor support through the SADC Arts and Culture Festivals which the ministry, its parastatals and national arts and culture associations help to initiate. Unfortunately this was also the period when the Economic Structural Adjustment Programme (ESAP) was being implemented and the Ministry of Education, Sport and Culture was targeted as the first ministry required to reduce its size of staff complement and programmes in order to reduce overall government expenditure.
Being the ministry with the largest number of civil servants, it was hope that rationalization of the ministry would bring about a drastic reduction in government expenditure. And yet structures that looked after education functions were all considered essential and not worth tempering with. This led the authorities responsible for downsizing the ministry to choose the abolition of the department of culture and sport as something easy to justify. The result of this exercise was the abolition of district and provincial structures of the Division of Sport and Culture as well the abolition of the Literature Bureau by virtue of having been assigned to the Division of Culture. The argument that was advanced was that the abolition of the Division was necessary because it was duplicating the functions of its parastatals- the National Arts Council, the National Gallery and the Sports and Recreation Commission. It was argued that issues of culture and sports policy would be the responsibility of the Division of Education Policy and Standards which were staffed by education officers. Even the draft national sport policy which was ready for presentation to Cabinet did not found in favour with both the board of the Sports and Recreation Commission and the senior education officers who had been considered appropriate to handle the formulation of sports and culture policies. It was not clear as to whether the boards of National Gallery, NLDS, National Arts Council and the Sports and Recreation Commission were expected to lead the exercise of national policy formulation.
Cultural Policy for Zimbabwe at last
When the Ministry of Education, Sports and Culture finally got round ,in 2005 , to bringing together prominent individuals in the arts and culture sector and the senior education officers to produce a cultural policy for Zimbabwe, after rounds of meetings, there was no senior officer in the ministry responsible for culture except mass games display officers and those seconded from the education department to oversee the remaining cultural functions such the selection of artists for airport arrivals of dignitaries ; the identification and engagement of choirs at burials of heroes at the National Heroes Acres ; the hiring of artists for national celebrations and the production of mass games for the independence day celebrations. In this exercise no white paper was issued to invite or inform the nation about the national exercise of developing a national cultural policy. No public statements were made about the exercise and no invitations were made to national arts and culture associations and, institutions to make submissions in writing about issues they wanted the national cultural policy to address.
The exercise did not take cognizance of the presence of those who had played a part in the cultural policy formulation exercises of the 80s and 90s who were still in the country; records of dialogues initiated after the World Conference on Cultural Policies for Development as well as concerns raised on the need for harmonizing cultural policies and legislation in the SADC. This process also excluded stakeholders in other sectors of culture such as the heritage sector -the departments and parastatals of the Ministry of Home Affairs , Local Government, Rural and Urban Development and Tourism as well those concerned with the audio visual industry- the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting ; the Ministry of Legal Affairs that was responsible for copyright issues, and the Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education that was responsible for teacher education and UNESCO. This has been confirmed by the absence of records I of invitations to these ministries, department and parastatals to submit what they thought should be featured in the national cultural policy.
This section was written by Stephen Chifunyise with additional input from Florence Mukanga- Majachani