Zimbabwe/ 1. Historical perspective: cultural policies and instruments  

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, ‗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.

The first consolidated cultural policy of Zimbabwe was launched in 2004. In 2009 the Ministry of Education, Sport Arts and Culture, which was responsible for the arts initiated a fresh revision of the policy after making the following realisations:

  • There was need to cover more aspects of the arts and culture in the policy.
  • There was need for conformity with best practices and international conventions.
  • The need for a more participative involvement of the creative sector in the formulation of the policy for greater ‘buy in.’
  • Growing recognition of the role of culture and the arts in nation building and developing coherence in the society and community.

From 2010 the ministry embarked on provincial consultative meetings across the country. Two researchers were appointed to consolidate views of stakeholders and contents of past policy documents with a view to produce a draft policy which was to be debated and finalised through wider consultations. The revised national heritage and culture policy is yet to be announced.

In 2013 there was also a determination to align the cultural policy with current situation (issues and priorities) for culture practitioners, producers and entrepreneurs and the national development policy framework – ZimAsset 2013 and other policies.

Reflections on the review process

  • The process has taken too long. This could be due to other national process that were happening at the same time eg Constitution making process which was concluded in 2013.
  • Also the 2013 Elections led to change of government from government of national unity to a ZANU PF government. This saw the birth of a standalone Ministry of Sport, Arts and Culture with a new Minister, Deputy Minister, Permanent Secretary and staff. The transition from the old to a new ministry might be one of the reasons for the delay in the finalisation of the policy.
  • Zero budget from the government has also severely impacted on progress. The Ministry of Sport, Arts and Culture is faced with financial constraints hence it has had to rely on donor funding to fund the policy review process.

This section was written by Stephen Chifunyise with additional input from Florence Mukanga- Majachani

Chapter published: 24-02-2015