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Govt should assist artistes

By Fred Zindi

Having communicated with several artistes over the phone and via Facebook, it has come to my attention that several of them are grounded due to the advent of Covid-19 as they have no other means of earning an income.

Up until the end of March when the government, on the advice of health experts, announced that Zimbabwe would be on lockdown for 21 days, many artistes were earning their livelihood through performing in pubs, night clubs, restaurants, at weddings and at larger functions which called for large events. All this, for now, has come to nil.

One artiste was telling me that he had been booked to be the opening act at the now cancelled Burna Boy concert, which was scheduled for this April at the Harare International Conference Centre (HICC), but as everyone knows, this concert is no longer going to take place.

A message from Master Pablo Nakappa, Transit Crew bassist and jazz guitarist, to me reads:

“Elder, we are just staying home and following the advices. Otherwise we are totally grounded. Grounded. We don’t know where and what tomorrow has in store for us. We don’t even know where the next meal is going to come from.”

Pablo has summed it all for the whole community of artistes who have become dysfunctional, so to say, and are suffering in silence.

Many artistes say the coronavirus was unpredictable and hadcaught them unawares. However, some of them have said that even if they had been given six months’ notice, they would have found it difficult to save anything as most of them lived from hand-to-mouth when the going was “good”.

However, now that there is a lockdown and they cannot function anymore, this has made the situation even worse. Nobody knows when these artistes are going to go back to work. Right now, the majority are worried about how they are going to pay rent at the end of this month, let alone find money to buy food for the family. Many have become restless.

It takes a kind heart and a considerate government to understand how these artistes feel.

It makes sense that a lot of young artistes can’t easily imagine where they’re headed and it’s uncommon for millennial generation members to stay planted in one spot for long. In the past, several of them would have left the country in situations like this to seek greener pastures in countries with better economies, but with the coronavirus raising its ugly head on everyone in every country in the world, almost all borders are closed and flights to foreign lands have been grounded. Quite a few would have left for South Africa, Australia or the United Kingdom during this crisis, but that is impossible for now.This means that, as Pablo puts it, artistes are grounded.

Another artiste remarked: “It is better to die from coronavirus than to die from hunger.

“There is less shame at my funeral as people will just say so and so died from Covid-19, which can attack anybody. It does not discriminate on the grounds of whether one is rich, poor, black, white, male or female.

“Look at Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister of Britain. He is high profile and has got material wealth, but he was also attacked by the virus. In my case, hunger will kill me and my whole family would be embarrassed to let everyone know that that a seemingly successful musician who was well-known died from starvation. How I wish the government could help us.”

According to Ngoni Makuvaza, who is currently researching on coronavirus at the University of Zimbabwe: “Many artistes view their future selves like a stranger. When it comes to being motivated to save money, they just don’t feel like they’re doing it for themselves. What they ought to learn is to know that they want to get married in future. This comes with major expenses such as accommodation, medical care insurance, child care, school fees and, of course, daily expenses like transport and food. But they shouldn’t be reminded of these things by Covid-19,” he says.

With the new generation of artistes, even among those who make lots of money, not many have any savings. Many of them are busy nursing their egos by spending money unnecessarily on frivolous items. Very few of them think about investing in houses or bigger things when they get the opportunity to improve their lives. It is when a disaster such as Covid-19 knocks on their doors that some of them helplessly wake up to smell the coffee.

The goals of previous generations are not necessarily those of this new breed of artistes. Several of them don’t plan on marrying, and others do not count on having children. In addition to cultural changes, the economic climate has blown away the goalposts for many young people. As wages have sputtered, so have child care, medical and education expenses soared. They simply cannot afford these and are beginning to see these things as luxuries.

Out of the 50 young artistes interviewed by Makuvaza, almost all of them (94%) said that they do not expect to retire, and a quarter said they will never buy a house because the economy has failed them. Most artistes don’t believe there’s any long-term security anymore since they have failed to save any money.

When an individual’s life trajectory is a question mark, it can be harder for that individual to plan for it.

This coronavirus crisis is posing an unprecedented threat, on a global scale, to a generation of people who make a living and a profession as artistes. With reasons given above, is it not time to call for action by the government to help artistes survive the current crisis and eventually help lead it to recovery?

Creators of music, audiovisual works, visual arts, drama and literature are the backbone of national cultures and of economies. Even now, it is their creative works which are everywhere helping and connecting millions of people who are having to endure a life of quarantine during this lockdown period.

But artistes are in a uniquely fragile position. The large majority of them are self-employed and dependent on meagre royalties paid by organisations such as Zimura, authors’ societies or record labels. In the case of musicians, most of them depended on live gigs to make ends meet. Today, and in the coming weeks and probably months, artistes will be among the worst affected by the coronavirus crisis.

These organisations are doing their best, maintaining royalty distributions and using emergency social funds where possible. However, many artistes across Zimbabwe are reporting a collapse of cultural and entertainment activity, affecting concerts, festivals, exhibitions and all the main platforms where creative works are used.

Artistes are by nature self-motivated entrepreneurs and will be an enormously positive force in helping drive the economic recovery in the future. But they urgently need rescue measures now, and only the lever of government policy will have the impact required. I understand a Covid-19 fund has been set up by our government. We do hope that artistes will be included in this distribution.

The government could, through the National Arts Council of Zimbabwe (NACZ), enlist deserving artistes who are at the moment going destitute. This week I received a WhatsApp message purpotedly from the NACZ. It says: “The NACZ is collecting names of artistes whose operations have been affected by the lockdown for consideration for government grants.”

If this is true, that would be a move in the right direction. Several governments elsewhere, such as in France and South Africa, have acted, for example, with emergency funding for creative sectors; others such as in Argentina, Chile and Peru, have already identified protection for the creators (for example, via tax and social security concessions and emergency payments) as a priority.

It is imperative that the government understands the vital importance of artistes now and ensure the highest level of support possible.
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