Zimbabwe/ 7. Public institutions in cultural infrastructure  

7.1 Cultural infrastructure: tendencies & strategies

Zimbabwe does not have an inventory for cultural infrastructure hence it is impossible to give correct information on the numbers of public and private infrastructure in the country. Whilst there is a general lack of cultural infrastructure in the country, both state and private players play a pivotal role in the development of cultural infrastructure in Zimbabwe. In some cases they even collaborate in maintaining cultural infrastructure in the country.

Private initiatives

Most of the cultural infrastructure dedicated to performing arts and film is privately owned. In Bulawayo there is the Amakhosi Arts Centre established by Cont Mhlanga in 1980 with a view to provide artists with their own space where they were free to create, express themselves and showcase their works without government control. In Harare there is Theatre in the Park, again established by Daves Guzha in 1996 aiming to bridge the gap between white and black theatre and Pakare Paye arts centre established by Oliver Mtukudzi. There are other numerous privately owned venues such as REPS Theatre, Courtauld Theatre and Charles Austin Theatre among others.

Spaces such as the Book Café (Harare), a space where artists, activists and the public can meet each other, can connect with each other and share ideas and inspiration while enjoying diverse artistic performances are also privately owned.

Film venues such as 7 Arts Theatre, art galleries and arts centres are also initiatives of private individuals working in some cases with private funders.

Donors and funding partners working on the arts and culture sector of Zimbabwe have also played a significant role in establishing infrastructure in rural areas. For instance the Binga Craft Centre, a community based organisation, linked to more than 4000 Tonga Women craft producers living in the Binga district was established in 1989 with assistance from donor funding. The craft centre, whose mission is to economically empower women producing Tonga crafts through sustainable use of natural resources, has done a lot to promote women's craft in Binga District.

State initiatives and strategies

Just after independence the government was determined to create arts centres. This resulted in the establishment of the Murewa Culture Centre in 1984 with the aim to make it a model of self-sustaining arts and culture centre — a benchmark for arts development in Zimbabwe. However this idea was not pursued further, as a result no other arts centres were established by the government.

In the area of libraries, National Library and Documentation Service (NLDS), established in 1985 by an Act of Parliament is responsible for overseeing public libraries in Zimbabwe. Originally the idea of public libraries in Zimbabwe is rooted in the colonial era when the white settlers established public libraries to cater for their information, recreational, educational and cultural needs. Later the infrastructure was expanded to meet the needs of Africans too. In almost all the cities there are public libraries and this is impressive. However financial constraints experienced from mid 90s have limited the effective implementation of this project.

Presently, Zimbabwe has six national museums, 16 sites museums and interpretive centres, three national art galleries and a diversified National Archives with several provincial records centres. These are entirely public institutions hence public cultural infrastructure. The country also has two community museums that have been developed in communities.

Local Government- city halls and grounds

Local government also owns a large stake of existing cultural infrastructure in Zimbabwe’s cities and towns in the form of community halls. Most of these halls were built before independence and were places for showcasing the arts soon after independence. Fio’s Cyril Jennings, Stodart and Mai Musodzi halls in Mbare (Harare) for instance, were used to showcase works of artists such as Safirio Madzikatire. However they are currently not serving a significant purpose in terms of arts development mostly due to exorbitant hiring fees charged by local authorities. They also do not have modern facilities needed for performances (lighting system etc) and most are dilapidated- they need urgent attention.

Government-Private Partnerships

There have been numerous occasions when government has partnered with the private sector and organisations to establish and boost/renovate already existing cultural infrastructure. Examples include:

Harare City Library renovations made possible following a US$1 million grant from the Swedish government, which was signed in November 2012. The project was managed by the Culture Fund of Zimbabwe Trust and a significant portion of the funding was channelled towards the purchase of books, computer networking and modernisation of the electrical wiring at the Main Library.

The establishment of the Chitungwiza arts centre in 1997 through a UNDP, Ministry of Education, Sport, Arts and Culture and National Arts Council of Zimbabwe partnership.

Chapter published: 07-04-2015