The government has bowed down to pressure from people in Matabeleland regarding the recent removal of the shield from the Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo (JMN) International Airport in Bulawayo and replacing it with its Coat of Arms and Emblem without consulting stakeholders.
The development triggered spirited protests on the matter on social media.
In a climbdown, Minister of Transport and Infrastructural Development, Felix Mhona, released a statement saying the ministry regretted the “hasty removal of the signage at JMN Nkomo international airport without notifying all the stakeholders.”
The minister also said the ministry had flighted tender advertisements for new signage that incorporated stakeholders’ concerns, adding the government’s Coat of Arms emblem branded on the current signage was temporary.
“Wider consultations are ongoing on the best signage which will factor in regional sentiments and desires,” Mhona said.
The Ndebele shield, knobkerrie and spear were part of the signage at the airport, which were traditional African weapons used by warriors in battle. The weapons were used in one some of the decisive battles such as the Matabele War of 1893 and the first Umvukela of 1896.
These three weapons have remained a part of the cultural fabric of the region with various institutions including schools adopting them as part of their logos.
After the shield’s removal was brought to light by CITE, activists made an uproar, accusing the government of looking down upon the Ndebele culture while academics also noted the removal of the shield opened up questions on whether Zimbabwe was a nation or is dominated by one ethnic group.
But locals have questioned when the tendering process was opened, as this was their first time to learn about it.
“Have they announced the tendering process local to the airport? Secondly, how many local participants applied through the tendering process?” asked one twitter user on CITE’s platform.
What also puzzled people was the minister sentiments’ when he said, “for the record,” the previous signage was done, “as a temporary measure following the upgrading of the airport and its commissioning in 2013.”
“The Architect, Studio Arts, came up with a number of designs from the airport signage. Consultations were done with the Nkomo Family Trust, Culture practitioners within the region, CAAZ, Ministry of Transport and Infrastructural development and Cabinet on the matter,” said the minister, adding concerns had been raised about the poor quality of the signage that had the shield.
“There has, however, been concerns by stakeholders on the poor quality and workmanship of the temporary signage since 2015,” said the minister.
Still activists were not convinced, saying if this had been the case, authorities should have kept the shield until a better design was unveiled.
In an interview with CITE, head of the Joshua Nkomo family, also ZAPU leader, Sibangilizwe Nkomo, said it was wise for the government to acknowledge its mistakes on removing the cultural shield and correct them.
“The government did not consult the family; that is a lie. I am the head of the Joshua Nkomo family. I did not see anyone from the government or from ACZ. What they are saying as a defence, has no sense. How can they say the shield was temporary for all this time? They are just embarrassed that what they were trying to do has failed,” he said.
Nkomo added that the tender process, announced by the minister, must be transparent and be open for locals who knew what was best.
“They should consult stakeholders and make that tender available for locals,” said the ZAPU leader.
Nevertheless, the transport minister noted that when Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe (CAAZ) split into both a Regulator and Operator, it gave rise to the formation of a new company the Airports Company of Zimbabwe (ACZ), which assumed the responsibility for the operations and management of all airports, JMN included.
“ACZ has since then been seized with the matter of improved signage at all our airports and has gone on to erect new signage with the government of Zimbabwe Coat of Arms as a temporary measure,” Mhona said.
“The Ministry of Transport and Infrastructural Development would like to inform the nation that it is committed to proper signage at all our airports in line with the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) standards. In this regard the Airports Company of Zimbabwe (ACZ) continues to carry out its mandate of making sure proper signage at all airports to ICAO standards.”