Why is art important? Art plays a critical role in shaping culture. Our identity is derived from our cultural beliefs and practises. In a nutshell, without being rooted deeply in traditional arts, we lose our identity. The issue of an identity crisis still plagues our beloved Zimbabwe. One wonders what has been the reason to this chronic crisis. Could it be as a result of the colonial curriculum that is still dominating our education systems? Or is it the lack of interest by both local and diaspora Zimbabweans as a result of economic hardships? While there are certain customs that have been passed down from generations to generations and are still in practise, there is a lot that needs to be done. What makes the cultural identity crisis more prominent among Zimbabweans is that our traditional arts have largely been replaced by Western pop culture and other West African cultures as evident in our pop culture music and dressing with the exception of the Ndebele tribe. It is arguably the only tribe in Zimbabwe till date that has authentic culture well pronounced than other tribes in the country.
While the Shona speaking tribes that make up over 70% of the country’s population, none of them have the consistency and demonstrate cultural pride as the Ndebele tribe. The irony is that the Shona tribes have rich history. We had the Kingdoms of Zimbabwe, Mutapa and Rozwi that thrived in the medieval era with evidence of the Great Zimbabwe ruins. Since the demise of these kingdoms, there’s been almost obliteration of tangible culture of significant value apart from the ruins of Great Zimbabwe.
A controversial but effective move by the then Minister of Information and Publicity Prof. Jonathan Moyo, during his 2000 to 2005 term, was the propagation of locally produced music in favour of foreign produced music. However, the majority of the music on the airwaves was largely war of liberation music. This kind of music did not resonate well with the urban youth thus resulting in the birth of Urban Groove musicians who transcended the music scene in Zimbabwe.
Another factor contributing towards the identity crisis is the religious factor. Many churches have created the notion that anything cultural or “chivanhu” is deemed demonic or viewed with suspicion. The irony of this suspicion is that the Israeli children (the chosen ones of God) practised from the days in the Bible till this day rituals that involve blood sacrifices. Undoubtedly, there is an element of witchcraft that is associated with certain rituals which unfortunately gives a negative perception that everything that is “chivanhu” is suspicious.
I believe most of our identity crisis is attributed to a lack of interest as a result of the following factors;
1. Lack of organization– Taking the Shona tribes as a case study due to their dominance in accounting to over 70% of the overall population in Zimbabwe, there are 5 major Shona speaking groups namely the Korekore, Zezuru, Karanga, Manyika and Ndau tribes. Though there may be village chiefs scattered across the country, the lack of tribal chiefs makes it difficult to have a distinct hierarchy that can set a tone for the social agenda of the respective tribes.
2. Colonial education system– Our education system has made our people have an unconscious biasness towards our culture. We’re more interested in Western culture instead of developing interest in the history of our country’s culture.
3. Lack of creativeness– Our people are more interested in copying other people’s work of art either in music, food, or dressing instead of being innovative. People would rather take shortcuts.
4. Corruption– The cancer of corruption is one of the worst epidemics to have hit our country. Those that are creative are not given the platform. Instead, those that have political connections have an advantage and in some cases, can steal ideas and portray them as theirs.
5. Lack of institutions– We lack robust institutions that could nurture talent for the betterment of everyone.
6. Lack of cultural commitment– We have no sense of the betterment of our people. We are now in a state where it’s a dog eat dog society; survival of the fittest.
7. Poverty– As what Prof. Lumumba said, “Africans are not motivated by ideas. They are motivated by their stomachs.” With poverty all over the country, the primary instinct is always survival. Dire economic hardships for nearly 2 decades understandably result in the masses’ lack of engagement in cultural interests.
8. Division over political lines– “Divide and conquer” is still the motto. We are so divided as a result of political ideologies rather than focusing more on what we have in common as Zimbabweans.
The above problem statements are the major ones and there could be more, however, the picture is clear. We have a major identity crisis that needs to be addressed as we seem not to share values of common interest.
As a Zimbabwean who has lived outside the country for over a decade, there seems to be a consistent pattern of how Zimbabweans living in the diaspora treat each other. There is a spirit of undermining those who are starting up, a desire to be on a pedestal over others, undermining those who have low paying jobs and a desire to associate themselves with other nationalities rather than our own. If you look at nationals of other African countries in the diaspora like the Ethiopians and Igbos of Nigeria, they help their own. Unfortunately, we don’t exhibit these traits. All these are symptoms of an identity crisis.
As we approach 40 years of independence, it is high time we had a reflection period between now and to the 18thApril 2020, as we need to address this identity crisis. We need to create a legacy that will last for generations to come.
Addressing Zimbabwe’s Identity Crisis
Having stated the crisis in detail, there has to be a starting point to bring about solutions to addressing our identity crisis. There are three main cultural pillars that are experienced daily by people namely cultural attires, traditional food and traditional music. These three pillars create a perception of a nation to the international community. Once we develop these three pillars, not only do we address the identity crisis, we also create opportunities of commercial value that are beneficial to the economy at large.
The Three Pillars
The first thing that needs to be done is to cover our cultural nakedness by designing tribal fabrics that can be used to make multiple styled outfits. The clothing styles have to be uniquely associated with each respective tribe such that there’ll be visible distinction. In addition, as a nation, we will need to have our own national themed fabric that could also be used to make multiple Zimbabwe themed outfits. I founded a clothing brand called ZimCollar in 2018 where I designed a Zimbabwean themed fabric that can be used to make multiple Zimbabwean outfits. A national fabric would serve as an important marketing tool promoting brand Zimbabwe to the world. Tourists coming to the country can buy some of the outfits as they can serve as souvenirs to them.
Next up is making our cultural food more accessible. There are many dishes that are yet to be marketed well locally. There’s need to have our traditional food structured in such a way that it is creative and the presentation is more appealing for the international audience thus making it more marketable to international restaurants. We should get our dishes as popular as the jollof rice of West Africa. In addition, developing street food is crucial as it also serves as an important tourist attraction. More can be done in food processing that can produce traditional sweets/dried fruits and with good packaging, can be exported.
While urban grooves and Zim Dance Hall music is dominating pop culture, traditional music seems to be fading away as the years go by. Cultural music involves traditional musical instruments such as Mbira, Ngoma, Hosho, Marimba and Hwamanda just to mention a few. Imagine African instrumental music on the same platform as European Orchestra music! The potential is there. We need to embrace this music by coming up with a dedicated radio station and several concerts both musical and theatrical that play folk music with a traditional feel.
Infrastructure and Institutional Development
The development of the cultural pillars needs robust institutions that are well organized to be at the foundation of these pillars. Introducing a National Cultural and Heritage Day in schools would be essential in driving this national agenda. In addition, there’ll be need of iconic infrastructure development starting in the capital. We have to enhance existing historical places as well as develop new ones. If we look at some of the leading tourist attracting cities in the world, their societies have been inspired to build amazing architectural buildings that reflect their cultural pillars.
The impact of Cultural Tourism is underestimated and yet to be capitalized. There are many opportunities that can be birthed across all business sectors resulting in revenue generation for the country. Some of the businesses that will benefit are mentioned below;
Travel & Tour Agencies
Hotels & Restaurants
Taxis and Public Transport
Bureau De Change
Theme Parks and Excursion
With the above businesses, sustainable jobs can be added to the economy driven by the enhancement of our culture.
As Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, ruler of Dubai said, “Build and they will come.” This vision is what transformed Dubai from an economy dependent on oil to a dynamic cosmopolitan city driven by tourism, real estate and financial services sectors. Zimbabwe too can look at transforming to greater heights with the right vision by our leadership. The 40th Independence of our nation has to usher a new era of culture that will transform the minds of our people and begin to build a solid cultural foundation that will put our country on the world stage and be passed down from generation to generation.
In conclusion, the majority of our challenges including economic ones are centred on our identity crisis. To begin resolving these challenges, we need to follow the hierarchy (see picture below) from the bottom upwards until the complete reunification of Zimbabwe. If there was no starting point, let’s begin a conversion on initiating this process through points in this article that will hopefully spring out more ideas to lead us to our goal. Let us for a moment work collectively and be remembered to be the generation that decided to make a difference in shaping the culture of our nation at large.
By Taurai Mushove