President Emmerson Mnangagwa played into the hearts of local artists in Bulawayo, Saturday, by acceding to most of their demands and assuring them that their grievances would be addressed.
Some of their grievances included reducing artists’ fees, asking for diplomatic passports, declaring Bulawayo the country’s cultural hub among other demands.
This was Mnangagwa’s first time to engage Bulawayo artists – under the Cultural Creative Industry (CCI) umbrella body – since he took over power and took opportunity to officially launch the National Arts, Culture and Heritage Policy.
The policy is informed by the need “to reinforce the country’s identity, embrace its culture as well as celebrate the diversity of its people in the context of fast global world order, with a view to safeguard Zimbabwean cultural heritage in the 21st century.”
After listening to the artists present their ‘clearly’ thought out issues, President Mnangagwa said he was extremely impressed with the “clarity and focus” on what they want done.
“I don’t know why you waited all this time to have your voice heard, nonetheless now that you have spoken we probably are going to listen. I am happy that the Minister of Finance (Professor Mthuli Ncube) is present.”
Earlier, Prof Mthuli Ncube indicated he was going to include the artists’ requests into the 2020 National Budget before it went to Parliament.
Mnangagwa continued: “You have talked about red tape in government where invited artists from outside the country, spend a minimum of a week in Harare moving from one office to another. That I think should be put to rest,” he said to applause.
“I think we should have a desk in (Kirsy) Coventry’s ministry where if you come there, they do everything for you whilst you are having tea.”
Coventry is Minister of Sport, Arts and Culture.
Mnangagwa also granted diplomatic passports for artists but told them “to refine who in the industry would qualify for one.”
Artists had raised an issue of stolen artifacts, of which the president said they must provide correct information while their parent ministry must compile a list and involve the Ministry of Justice and Foreign Affairs to retrieve these back into the country.
“With regards to a 75 percent local content policy, the Broadcasting Services Authority is clear so this is question of enforcement by Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services Minister , Monica Mutsvangwa (who was also present),” Mnangagwa said.
He added that he informed Mutsvangwa to settle the artists’ royalty fees owed by the state broadcaster.
“Mutsvangwa said under her leadership, they had reduced debt from a million to $600 000. Before year end this must be settled.”
In his speech, Mnangagwa disclosed the arts sector accounts of two percent of people in formal employment, of which his government would support artists who export their art and claimed the finance minister would be “happy to do this because it could earn him hard currency.”
“This industry can and does earn foreign currency for the fiscus. I’m told some of our pieces sell for more than US$20 000 abroad but all these talented Zimbabweans are not supported by government.”
Mnangagwa confirmed he supported calls to create a chamber for CCI as it was necessary.
“I have no doubt artists deserve a chamber to discuss and look at the relevant legislation to support your sector. The chamber could also be a platform for lobbying for your interests of sector. It, however, must go through Ministry of Industry so approach Dr Sekai Nzenza (the minister), we will make sure she is informed about this decision,” he noted.
The president told artists to create innovation hubs for their industry, where they could be recognised and solve challenges of certification or qualification.
“I have no problem in persuading the finance minister to support that. As for social protection – I’m not clear what you meant but in government when we talk of that we speak of the vulnerable disadvantaged members of our community. I am not sure what you have in mind, maybe your ministry can work around this and present your case to cabinet,” he said.
Mnangagwa acceded to Bulawayo crowned the cultural hub of the country and said headquarters should be established locally once the arts ministry made recommendations to government
He gave his nod to proposals to hold a cultural festival in Bulawayo as well.
“Go ahead, certain countries such as France and Brazil have these and I think we need them too,” he said.
The president said culture and arts were the bedrock of social cohesion, where love and harmony could be built in an unitary state.
“I challenge everyone in the country especially all those in public sector service to learn more local languages and be able to serve people more effectively. Embrace diversity of cultures, irrespective of ethnic origin, colour or creed, as this is critical for our Ubuntu.”
On artists’ fees, Mnangawa noted the door to lobby for a reduction was open as in his view high fees discouraged artists to come in Zimbabwe.
He also said artists could push for an amendment to review up piracy sentences, as it remains the greatest threat to the creative economy.
“The law criminalises piracy but the sentence is about two years yet if one steals livestock, they are jailed for nine years.”