Arts sector reforms long overdue

HARARE - Nhimbe Trust, an advocate for a vibrant and sustainable Zimbabwean creative sector notes that the government wishes to absorb the Censorship Board and the National Arts Council into their parent ministry as well as privatise the National Handicraft Centre.

We warn against this being done. We are of the view that closing down the three entities in the name of cost-cutting would demonstrate, on the part of the government, a disconcerting disregard for, and a lack of appreciation of the crucial role of social and economic revival that the creative industries play.

We are also alarmed by the risk of this reform degenerating into increased government control and censorship of the creative industries.

Nhimbe Trust has consistently been a proponent of long overdue reforms of the Censorship Board and National Arts Council.

What we hope to see is the government seizing the opportunity presented by the parastatals reform agenda to finally align the cultural governance regulatory framework to the expansive framework of freedom of artistic expression and creativity guaranteed by Section 61 of the Constitution and the 2005 Unesco Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions, of which Zimbabwe is a signatory.

In our submissions to the United Nations Human Rights Commission Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of 2016 on Zimbabwe’s compliance with international human rights instruments on freedom of expression, creativity and the arts, which included views of artists, we decried how any song, play or writing dealing with social issues has the possibility of being linked to government actions and as result faces reprisals in the form of censorship. The risk of this can only increase once the Censorship Board is absorbed by government.

Similarly, in its Position Paper on the need to reform the National Arts Council Act Chapter, Nhimbe Trust lamented the detrimental effect of misapplication of the Act and its obsolescence relative to the new constitutional dispensation of 2013.

Consequently therefore, we will support the proposed arts parastatal reforms on condition that; the Censorship and Entertainments Control Act be repealed and replaced with a regime of classification for the protection of children using age restrictions; the National Arts Council Act be amended to provide a strong arts sector governance framework that is pro freedom of artistic expression and proactive in arts promotion and development through provision of grants as is the international best practice of arts councils; amendment of both Acts to lessen undue ministerial control and censorship of artists and their work; creative civil society is consulted widely about these reforms in terms of Section 141 of the Constitution; privatisation of the National Handicrafts Centre be conducted in an open and transparent manner that avoids corruption.

Any disregard of these conditions will strangle the artists, cultural workers, cultural and creative industries instead of fully promoting them as required by the national Constitution and 2005 Unesco Convention.

Josh Nyapimbi is director of Nhimbe Trust.

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