Heritage crimes to attract jail term

HARARE - Heritage crimes and illicit trafficking of cultural property will soon attract a six-month jail term, officials have said.

Officials from the National Museums and Monuments of Zimbabwe (NMMZ), the National Archives of Zimbabwe (Naz) and the National Gallery of Zimbabwe (NGZ) on Tuesday said that people found guilty of contravening Zimbabwe’s three Heritage Acts of Parliament could soon face jail time.

They were speaking at the launch of a handbook seeking to combat heritage crimes and illicit trafficking of cultural property.

Speaking at the handbook’s launch, permanent secretary in the ministry of Rural Development, Promotion and Preservation of National Culture Thokozile Chitepo, said Zimbabwe was yet to build knowledge systems on how to protect historic and cultural sites and property.

Chitepo said people should be keener on preserving their own heritage through community policing.

Local authorities’ role in protecting the country’s natural and cultural heritage should be clearly defined in their duties, she said.

“Government must do more in preserving our culture and heritage. Even so, traditional leaders should also contribute in heritage preservation in their own jurisdictions. We need to work with them in respecting the role that culture plays in our lives,” Chitepo said.

“The theft and trafficking of cultural property and other items of archaeological and historical significance represents a profound and often irreparable loss, one that we must work together to stop before it is too late.”

The permanent secretary said since the colonial era, Zimbabwe has been a victim of illegal trafficking of artefacts, with objects such as traditional masks, spears and postage stamps being stolen from the country.

Among some of the heritage offences outlined in the handbook are failure to notify authorities of ancient relics, selling of protected historic records and alcohol or drug misuse at heritage sites including drug dealing.

NMMZ chief curator Kundishora Chipunza has said Zimbabwe is being used as a conduit in the $6 billion a year trafficking ring through the country’s porous borders.

He said cultural objects are easily smuggled to South Africa’s auction centre and exported to Europe and America.

In the last two years alone, the illicit trafficking of cultural objects has become second to the illegal trade of hard drugs.

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