Imagine this. You are impoverished and you go to your father to ask for a hen that can lay you golden eggs.
BY DANIEL MAPOSA
In your mind, you see this hen as the gateway to your success. In your dreams, the hen will lay those eggs; some will hatch chicks, some you will sell and some you will eat for your nourishment.
You are given this hen. For almost two years, you sit and wait. There are no eggs coming. All you can see is the hen eating and is getting fat. You find yourself in the same situation as you were before you were given the hen. Worse even!
This is the situation that the arts sector finds itself in after the creation of the Ministry of Sport, Arts and Culture in September 2013. Before that, there was serious lobbying and campaigning by the sector to have a standalone ministry that would listen to and deal with the many challenges that the sector is faced with.
The sector felt that being always an appendage of the Ministry of Education was the reason the government was not paying much attention to it. In September 2013, a new Ministry of Sport, Arts and Culture was created.
It has been almost two years since the ministry was formed and one is left to ask whether it was worth celebrating after all, considering that the sector is now in a worse position that it was in before 2013.
The primary role of the Ministry of Arts and Culture the world over is to create a conducive environment that enables growth, development, and investment in the arts sector.
This is mainly achieved through creation of a broad based policy framework, in this case an Arts and Culture Policy. The policy should provide a vision and direction to be pursued by the sector.
However, it is sad to learn that the review of the cultural policy that started during the inclusive government has been going on and on with no finality. The process of the culture policy review in itself is a very controversial one. However, this is a discussion for another day. In the absence of a robust policy framework, it is very difficult for the ministry to steer the sector to where it is supposed to be.
The other role of the ministry is to capacitate bodies like the National Arts Council with resources to fund the sector. In other countries, the role of the arts council is to promote the growth of the sector through financial and other support.
Examples are there in Africa where arts councils are at the forefront of funding the arts. For example, the National Arts Council of Namibia in 2010 granted N$1, 75 million to arts and culture organisations in that country.
This year the South African National Arts Council has so far funded the arts and culture groups to the tune of R17 million. All this money comes from treasury.
In his paper Cultural Policy merely history — or the History of Cultural Policy its Future? Bjorn Linnell (1999) argues that “culture can only be created if the conditions required for creating it are guaranteed through (public) funding”.
This unfortunately is not the case in Zimbabwe. Currently the funding of the arts and culture sector has been left to foreign donors. Honestly, can we as a nation that talks so much about sovereignty, mortgage our arts and culture to outsiders? We have not heard so far the ministry’s articulation of its desire to ensure that the sector is funded.
The government also has a role to ensure that the corporate sector invests in the arts and culture sector. But they can only do that if there are benefits to be derived from such support. And these benefits are pronounced in policy statements.
The corporates in other countries, are offerd tax exemptions if they invest in the arts. These benefits motivate the corporate sector to invest into the arts. The responsible ministry should sell these ideas to treasury. Honestly, is our minister aware that it is his ministry’s role to ensure that private bodies and companies invest in the arts?
Zimbabwe is one of the most difficult countries to do business in arts and culture in Africa. Many promoters will attest to this. There are many uncoordinated laws and policies that are detrimental to the development of the arts sector.
For example, if one wants to hold a festival or bring an artist from outside Zimbabwe, one has to pay the National Arts Council of Zimbabwe, the Censorship Board, Zimra and Immigration. Before you know it, the whole budget is gone to these statutory bodies.
This stifles growth and chases away investment in this fragile sector. To overcome this annihilation, the arts and culture sector would expect its parent ministry to present this issue to cabinet.
Unfortunately, I don’t think our parent sees it that way. We have heard of other ministries like the Ministry of Tourism and Hospitality articulating issues that affect their sector.
What stops our ministry from doing the same if they really are aware of the challenges the sector is facing?
It is my conclusion that our ministry has so far not delivered any meaningful results to the arts and culture sector.
Honestly, one is left to conclude that the ministry is a burden to the sector as it only gobbles resources it gets from treasury without investing time and resources to improving the sector.
It is behaving like a captain of a football team who runs the length and breadth of the football pitch for 90 minutes, but never kicks the ball.
When will the hen start laying eggs?