By Bruce Ndlovu
Amakhosi founder Cont Mhlanga says the arts fraternity in the country is failing to mount a serious response to Covid-19 because of narrow selfish interests preventing practitioners from coming together for a common cause.
With public gatherings banned and places of leisure shut, artistes across the world have found themselves at crossroads, with their main sources of income now unavailable to them.
In Zimbabwe, where a lot of artistes live from hand to mouth at the best of times, Covid-19 has worsened and exposed the struggles of artistes.
A fortnight ago, President Mnangagwa highlighted that the arts would be in need of intervention, with the Ministry of Youth, Sport, Arts and Recreation tasked with formulating a post-Covid response tailored for the sector.
However, arts doyen Mhlanga believes that such a response would be hampered by artistes themselves, with some only looking to push their own interests ahead of the collective good.
“The department of arts and culture for the first time in our history as an independent Zimbabwe will now for the first time have a strategic action plan for the next five years. I think it’s a 10-year strategy. What’s important is that in it there’s a funding mechanism.
“There’s a strategic plan on how to fund the arts. What makes it complicated at the moment is that, and I’m sure that you’ve noticed this from the rescue packages that have been announced by the President, in other industries there are already set down figures.
“In the arts there are no figures and the President is still waiting on the ministry. What causes this is that sector players in the arts in Zimbabwe are in disarray,” Mhlanga told Sunday Life.
The veteran playwright said that despite the best efforts by the Government, they would find that it is each man for himself in the arts.
“We are all over the place. Everyone has their own interests. This one wakes up and does this and that with his friends or group. Everyone has their own little association that advocates for very narrow interests. There is no organisation that speaks for the whole sector. It’s hard to represent a sector that is not organised industrially, a sector that is competing among itself,” he said.
Mhlanga said although the arts had a strategic action plan formulated after Government consultation with industry leaders, artistes also needed to play ball.
“From what I see the strategic action plan for the arts is now there. I say this because before the start of the lockdown we were invited by the Government and I went to Harare and we had a validation of the action plan.
“The action plan was put together by sector leaders, over 500 of them, who gathered in Harare after the President launched the creative culture policy. The strategic action plan for the arts is what’s important and Zimbabwe has never had one. It’s now there and it was supposed on the President’s desk before then had to deal with the lockdown,” he said.
All the best laid out plans could be foiled by artistes’ failure to come together and organise in a more orderly manner, Mhlanga said.
“I know for a fact that the Nation Arts Council of Zimbabwe has been trying to come up with a budget and I know for a fact that they’re throwing figures around $100 million to rescue the arts and culture industries.
“However, all of this is going to be guesswork and all of this will be in the hands of the National Arts Council and we need to know that National Arts Council are not the actual players in the sector. They’re a Government department that should be connecting to the actual arts players.
“But you’ll then realise that the arts players don’t even know how much they need. Like now, they don’t even know the programmes to put in place to be players at this time when Covid is wreaking havoc,” he said.
Mhlanga noted that while other industries were already grappling with the economic toll brought about by Covid-19, the arts industry still seemed to be in slumber.
“Other sectors are already going to the Government and proposing ways in which they could open up. You can’t find that in the arts because of the disorganisation of people in the industry.
“It’s important for artistes to realise that for Government to help them they need to be organised on their own. They need to find a model in which to become industrially organised. They don’t need to structure themselves as artistes competing against each other as is currently the case,” he said.
Audiences and artistes alike, Mhlanga said, would have to be protected when the arts go back to full swing again.
“Those people must come together urgently and start to put measures that will protect audiences. They need to put measures that will allow artistes to go to those places and be able to start to work.
“If that is done the artistes will be under the protection of these measures at a time when the world is struggling with Covid-19. There is also a need to make sure that the public who then goes to those places are protected within the means of what is permissible during this period when we have Covid-19.
“The Government can then invest in those places and reach artistes through venues, places where the audience meets the artistes. That is the first step and that is very urgent.
“This whole thing of following people because they talk too much, because they’ve done one or two events with no venue or recognised space, must just end. It is not the way to rescue artistes. It is not the way to organise artistes,” he said. Sunday News