Tengenenge to revive lustre

HARARE - One of Zimbabwe’s biggest sculpture gardens, Tengenenge Sculpture Community in Guruve is feeling the effects of the underperforming economy as few people are visiting the facility to buy their products.

Housing more than 120 stone sculptors on a single farmland, hundreds of finished sculptures are spread on vast display stands that any collector or buyer is spoilt of choice.

The pieces continue to mount at the gallery as tourists and buyers no longer come in their numbers with artists saying they now just receive less than five in a month. In the past years this was a hub for local embassy staff and several collectors from Europe who frequently visited the place to buy sculptures or just to view the artefacts.

The Daily News recently visited the facility with officials from the Tourism ministry who are trying to revive the sculpture community.

Tengenenge Sculpture Community, together with other tourist destinations around the country are hopeful that the gallery will be revived through the Community-Based Tourism Master Plan targeting poverty alleviation project.

On tour that day were officers from the Tourism ministry and their colleagues from Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), a centre for advanced tourism studies who have, since June 2015 to date been exploring ways in which to get the centre back to its feet, hence improve the tourism industry.

Since the 1990s, the Zimbabwean government has advocated a policy of promoting the development of community-based tourism enterprises (CBTEs) in order to increase national tourism competiveness, support the alleviation of poverty, increase environmental conversation and preserve local cultures and heritage.

While a variety of CBTEs were developed in Zimbabwe, they have suffered from operational challenges due to uncertain and fluctuating economic circumstances the country has endured over the past years.

As a result, the government requested the support of the Japanese government to provide technical cooperation for planning a development project titled, Community-based Tourism Master Plan targeting poverty alleviation.

A guide at the facility,  Augustine Mbilingu highlighted how visitors to the place had dwindled in numbers and now averaging three to four visitors in a month.

“Ever since the sculpture garden’s founder (Tom) Bloomfield left for Netherlands a few years ago, activity at the centre has definitely slowed down but the community still do the day-to-day running of the business.

“We have three generations of artists at this place and the oldest serving member Josiah Manzi still ekes out a living by making and selling his sculptures”.

Manzi, 84, lives in one of the mud and dagga houses that are part of the tourist attractions, as they boast to have maintained the traditional ways of building these homes, although some have modern satellite dishes poled on them.

“Back in the day, we used to sell pieces at high prices but nowadays we are selling the small sculptures for $25 up to $70, with the bigger sculptures fetching as much as $500.

“The problem nowadays is that buyers and tourists are not coming in their numbers anymore.”

Manzi was taught how to make sculpture here in 1967 by Bloomfield and since then he has lived on them.

“We used to have visitors from America, United Kingdom, Germany, South Africa and Sweden, this habitation was busy then,” said Manzi, with the look of one who is reminiscing about the good old days.

Bloomfield, who was a tobacco farmer and chrome miner introduced stone sculpting to the community at Tengenenge Village in 1969.

Since then hundreds of stone sculptors have passed through the institution.

He resigned in 2007 and passed the directorship to popular Zimbabwean artist Dominic Benhura who in turn left the institution in the hands of the artists.

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