By Stephen Garan'anga
The culture sector in Zimbabwe has an enormous potential for contribution to both national and household income from local and export sale of various goods and services.
In spite of Zimbabwe’s comparative advantage within the Southern African region, the sector is weakly coordinated and the artists across all the key sub-sectors generally lack adequate funding, sufficient markets and technical resources to fully exploit this potential.
Disturbing facts have been unearthed by a task force which was commissioned by the Culture Fund of Zimbabwe Trust to identify and collect data on the status of the culture sector in Zimbabwe for the purpose of benchmarking and informing sector programming, monitoring and evaluation of interventions.
The baseline study used a combination of qualitative and quantitative methods to collect data that best portrays the baseline scenario of the culture sector in Zimbabwe.
Key informant interviews and focus group discussions were used to collect qualitative data, while secondary sources and individual questionnaires were administered on randomly selected strata of the sector.
In all cases, respondents were identified by sub-sector and across levels (national, provincial, district and grassroots). The findings of this baseline study are based on a sample covering all the ten provinces of Zimbabwe.
Key findings of the study indicate that the culture sector in Zimbabwe has immense potential to contribute to livelihoods and the national income.
Sector competitiveness and growth has been constrained by a number of factors. At national level, the sector is mainly constrained by a weak local market resulting from low disposable incomes to expend on cultural products coupled with an equally depressed international market as a result of a negative perception of the country by international tourists.
Government financial and technical support of the culture sector has been very limited in the past few years, with the hyperinflationary macroeconomic effects and massive brain-drain in the sector further increasing the need for additional resources to support the growth and development of the sector.
Unfavorable policies have also stifled creativity especially in the performing arts and the media sub-sectors. The export policy characterized by a high duty on cultural products has also shifted markets in favor of regional competitors.
The findings also indicate a limited skills base and shortages in specialized roles in the culture sector due to a massive emigration to regional and international destinations by artists and other key players in the sector.
Training capacity and staff and artist retention strategies have not been adequately structured to meet industry challenges to enhance growth and development.
Weak associations and ineffective information communication systems between artists and promoters were reported as well as lack an effective monitoring and coordination of interventions, marketing strategy and information sharing within the sector.
The competitiveness of the culture sector has been declining due to low level of political commitment to allocate meaningful resources to the development of the culture sector coupled with the lack of effective engagement of the private sector and donor community.
A poor pricing system for culture products which is less responsive to inflation has also added to the challenges in this sector.
At a global level there is limited access by local artists to markets due to poor connectivity and lack of knowledge of the internet and other business communication tools relevant in an increasingly globalize market.
While Zimbabwean art is recognized globally the brand strength and visibility still needs to be improved to enhance global market competitiveness.
The local market is facing strong challenge from Chinese visual art products that are lowly prized. Zimbabwe could benefit from selling those products only unique to Zimbabwe, for example, Great Zimbabwe and Khaki Ruins.
Capacity development at sector level is recommended in order to enhance viability, competitiveness and sustainability of the industry.
It is proposed that Culture Fund is better placed to take the responsibility of coordinating recommended interventions. Government must demonstrate the political will to prioritize and commit resources for the development of the sector.
In order to promote and support literary arts it is recommended that educational curricula be reviewed to enhance the development of creative talent and a culture of reading.
Budding Writers Associations must be also supported to give young writers the space for skills development and networking.
In pursuit of the promotion of visual arts, there is need to harness and retain experienced artists, advocate and lobby for institutional support, and enable artists to access and establish a presence on the internet for purposes of marketing visual arts products.
In the music industry, the strengthening of support institutions is necessary in order to ensure that the artists have the necessary networks to record, publish, market and distribute their music.
Legislation must be enforced to curb anti-piracy and copyright infringement. There is also a need to expose local artists to regional and international festivals for benchmarking and creating business networks.
The music industry has been affected more by the HIV/AIDS pandemic. It is recommended that HIV/AIDS training be mainstreamed in the capacity building strategies for the music sub-sector.
The film industry in Zimbabwe has great potential to develop beyond its current state. With film makers in developed countries always looking for locations for producing films, we recommend that a market study be undertaken to assess the potential and develop strategies for marketing Zimbabwe’s natural endowments.
It is further recommended that Zimbabwe must endeavor to focus resources on the production of major film alongside the short films in order to enter the lucrative global cinema arena.
Locally, an independent broadcasting and telecommunications regulatory body should be established to enhance the competitiveness of the industry and improve the quality of television programming.
This should also be facilitated through the repeal of the Broadcasting Services Act (2001) to allow the entry of new players in community and commercial television.
With reference to the cultural heritage sub-sector it is necessary to promote interest in national heritage early in schools and incorporate it in the educational curricula.
Cultural heritage could be promoted in several ways including through support of such events as National Heroes Day commemoration, national and provincial biras, and the performance of the national anthem.
Local languages should be recognized through the media and educational system. Cultural tourism could be greatly promoted through studies that can determine the inventory of heritage sites, upgrading or restoring and marketing these.
The media plays a very important role in communicating culture. The media could play a critical role in supporting initiatives to market products of the culture sector, e.g. festivals broadcast on television, funding television programmers and documentaries related to the sector.
Culture Fund could also consider the possibility of including the range of available media in reaching artists and monitoring progress after funding.
In order to equip media practitioners with capacity to report on culture there is need to facilitate training workshops for journalists to improve their contribution to the growth and development of the culture sector.
The study established the significance of the programming and monitoring function that Culture Fund could play. It is recommended that a database of grant beneficiaries within the various sub-sectors be established to improve monitoring of growth and development.
Key stakeholders must be trained in monitoring and evaluation. To support these initiatives a budget allocation by government through the National Arts Council of Zimbabwe (NACZ) could be considered.
Future research could focus on policy frameworks, educational and training institutions, and the financing of the culture sector. Continuous research effort is key in keeping the culture sector informed by the unique local realities while taking advantage of regional and international opportunities.
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