By Kennedy Nyavaya
President Emmerson Mnagagwa has called on the Youth, Sport, Arts and Recreation minister Kirsty Coventry to set up a plan to assist artistes access government’s financial cushions during the coronavirus-induced lockdown that has seen most creatives’ income streams dry up.
In his Workers’ Day speech on Friday, Mnangagwa said the ban on public gatherings had crippled the sector largely dependent on crowds for sustenance.
“This is an industry, which thrives on crowds by way of shows, performances and exhibitions [and] expectedly the lockdown has denied this vital sector the crowds, which are its vital lifeline,” said Mnangagwa.
“I have also instructed the honourable minister of Youth, Sports and Recreation Doctor Kirsty Coventry to make a proposal to government on how best this sector can be helped to mitigate the impact of Covid-19 pandemic.”
Mnangagwa’s call has raised questions on government’s seriousness when it comes to the arts industry, which employs thousands locally yet has so far been sidelined in the disbursement of billions of dollars in stimulus packages pledged so far.
All the industry has held onto are promises after Coventry announced the formation of United Programme for Athletes and Artistes in Zimbabwe (UPAZIM) last month, an initiative attempting to unite and support the arts and sport portfolios.
“We want to achieve three things, firstly create unity for all of us, secondly to create awareness for all our artistes and athletes and thirdly to create relief funds for these artistes and athletes,” Coventry said.
However, arts promoter and critic Plot Mhako said high hopes were now pinned on the former Olympic gold medal winner to go beyond words and actually help stricken artistes.
“It’s a commendable gesture and finally the president admitted that the arts have for long been neglected. I hope this will not go down as just talk and government will walk the talk,” said Mhako.
Reggae musician and arts promoter Joe Wailer, aka Uncle Joe, said he was in full support of Mnangagwa for remembering artistes.
“We thank the president for remembering the artistes during this time of the lockdown. Most artistes rely on crowds and when we have restrictions like these, it means our welfare is doomed,” Uncle Joe said.
The reggae crooner, who is famed for the track Rise and Shine — a song that was dedicated to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, said artistes should get in touch with the National Arts Council of Zimbabwe (NACZ) to register with the ministry.
“While, I might not be registering for the grant, I would like to urge fellow musicians, who are not generating income at the moment to register with the NACZ,” he said.
Uncle Joe, who is signed under United States-based Evolutionary Management and Music Promotions, is supportive of the local arts industry and hosts the annual Gweru Arts Festival and Chinhoyi Arts Festival in the Midlands and Mashonaland West provinces respectively.
He said all eyes were now on Coventry to get the ball rolling.
Mhako said it was another “litmus test” for the minister and her team, who have been accused of prioritising other areas at the expense of arts development, to formulate a substantive and inclusive way forward for artistes.
“I am more worried about and skeptical of the preparedness of the minister and the ministry to develop an effective, informed response plan,” Mhako said.
“A proposal that is in touch with the needs of the local industry in a fast changing creative world, so this will be yet another litmus test.”
An artiste who spoke on condition of anonymity said Coventry should ensure that every deserving artiste benefited from the fund.
“Reports from other sectors say such kind of assistance from the government is manipulated for political gain, so we hope this is not the case with artistes,” she said.
Government recently set up a
$17 million relief fund meant to support youth-led businesses and associations in mitigating the effects of Covid-19 on their operations across the country.
However, the fund, which is being administered through the Youth, Sport, Arts and Recreation ministry had not incorporated sectors like arts, which are made up of a large chunk of youths.
Efforts to contact NACZ director Nicholas Moyo to ascertain how artistes are to be registered were fruitless yesterday.