Nama should make radical reforms

HARARE - Another National Arts Merit Awards (Nama) ceremony has just gone by and, as has become the norm, it has left the Zimbabwean arts community deeply divided.

Predictably, the winners of Zimbabwe’s premier arts awards are in celebratory mood while those who did not make it are crying foul.

We could easily dismiss the complaints from the losers as rants of artistes unwilling to graciously concede defeat but that would be very unhelpful.

The losing artistes and various critics of the awards raise very valid points that the National Arts Council of Zimbabwe (Nacz) cannot afford to ignore in the build-up to the next edition.

While the Nacz should be praised for keeping the awards going, under very difficult economic circumstances and for sourcing prize money for the just-ended awards, the national arts body should not spurn advice meant to make Nama better.

One key problem that has weakened the Nama process since its inception is the absence of clear rules governing the awards’ nomination and adjudication processes.

There is need for unambiguous rules that result from extensive consultations among relevant stakeholders.

If these rules are properly communicated to the arts community, Nama will become more credible and respected than it is at the moment. 

The current nomination process offers a leeway to undeserving artistes to have their work considered.

The ideal process is to have competent judges for the various awards who will identify worthy nominees from which Nama laureates will be selected.

It is also important for the Nama adjudication panel to be made public.

The chairperson of the Nama judges should present a report during the awards ceremony that publicly explains how the judging process went in general.

If these judges really have faith in the way they select award recipients, then they should proudly come into the open and defend their choices.

Currently, the Nama award winners appear like they are chosen by an adjudication panel composed of judges from a secret society.

This is not helpful to Nama.

As Amakhosi Cultural Centre director Cont Mhlanga rightly put it “Nama could easily lose relevance if the government opens up broadcasting space as promised”.

Since Nama’s inauguration in 2003, there have been volleys and brickbats fired at Nacz.

But it is about time Nacz embraces everyone in the running of these awards because it can’t keep “learning” for more than a decade!

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