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ARTS FESTIVALS: Vital For Our Communities

Bulawayo hosted the Arts Festival and the launch of the Heritage Corridor in early June.

BY THABANI H. MOYO | @The_CBNews | This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. | JUN 12, 2021

During the week ending June 8, Bulawayo roared to life, living up to its melting pot tag with a week-long lineup of festivities--but, what's next? asks Thabani H. Moyo.

BULAWAYO (The Citizen Bulletin) — The city hosted the Bulawayo Arts Festival (Baf) and the launch of the Heritage Corridor. Arts and Culture Festivals carry varied meanings to different people.

For some, they are the soul of any community, time to celebrate a people’s culture therefore a moment that communities look forward to with pride and expectation.

Festivals help to identify people as they celebrate their cultures and traditions. They are a time when communities reflect on their past, create memories during the moment and project their dreams into the future.

Matabeleland boasts of a number of festivals that come in different sizes and forms.

Bulawayo alone has several; some still active while others are not held consistently due to a number of challenges. Matabeleland North boasts of Shangano Festival while Matabeleland South has the Gwanda Festival.

This installation seeks to highlight the vitality of these community festivals.

Many art enthusiasts view festivals as a platform for healing that plays an important role in the process of reconciliation.
They present spaces for self-expression, gratitude, rejoicing, benevolence, trust, love and trust. The artworks that are performed or displayed reveal the community’s challenges and dissatisfaction. The works reflect the history of the community, its successes and its pitfalls.

As such the recently held Bulawayo Arts Festival under the theme: “We Own Winter (WOW) is a good case to illustrate this point.

The festival celebrated Matabeleland’s cultural diversity and heritage through the unveiling of Bulawayo’s Heritage corridor. This involved the tour of Inxwala, the Hanging Tree, the Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo statue as well as The Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo Museum among others.

Inxwala was central to the Ndebele State as it marked the time of harvest experienced after a good agricultural season.

This was the opportune time for the Ndebele King to interact with his subjects. It was the moment when the state reaffirmed its existence with so much pride and gusto

It brought unity within the state. By recognising the space where Inxwala was performed, the festival revived the memories and the pride of the Ndebele state.

Those who were not aware of the space now know of its existence and why it has remained untampered with. It is an important heritage site.

In future festivals, we implore organisers to incorporate celebrations of heroes and heroines of the state. Stories of heroes and heroines of Matabeleland must be given priority during these celebrations.

Festivals must educate, inform their communities about their history and aspirations. In so doing the habitats of the region will surely identify with such festivals and feel proud to take part in them as artists or as audiences.

The tour to Joshua Nkomo’s statue and the museum is what festivals must encourage all year round and not be a five-day event.

It was refreshing to see a musical performance that was also dedicated to Queen Lozikeyi Dlodlo. We have in past installations advocated for her due recognition.

Each and every community has something unique about from language to its experiences. The Ndebele history is full of intriguing and exciting stories that are still waiting to be told. We look forward to vibrant Kalanga, Venda, Tonga and Sotho festivals.

However, showcasing one's rich heritage is not enough.

Regional festivals must therefore make it their priority to tap into these stories and turn them into income-generating projects for the creative industries. Self-financing is vital to avoid being arm twisted by external funders. Festivals can be a vehicle towards peacebuilding and reconciliation.

Programming can be modelled in such a way that it encourages truth-telling about the region’s dark past. Matabeleland still has serious scars dating back to the colonial period coming to post-independent Zimbabwe. Painful memories are part of the region’s history and cannot be avoided. One of the spaces that carry painful moments is The Hanging Tree that was used by the colonial administration to punish those who had partaken in the 1896 Ndebele Uprising.

To locate and identify the tree that still stands along Main Street is an important step by regional festivals. It is a reminder that the people of Matabeleland like those of other regions played an important role in resisting and fighting colonialism. Unfortunately, the tragedy of Matabeleland did not end during the colonial period, it spilt over to post-independence Zimbabwe. The period between 1980 and 1987 has bitter memories and the people of Matabeleland need healing.

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It is one area that regional festivals need to intentionally address. This can be done by creating spaces where conversations around the genocide can be discussed and recommendations made. In the past, plays around the Gukurahundi period have been showcased and sometimes some have been met with resistance from the central government. It is unfortunate that authorities still want to run away from honest discussions around such issues.

Matabeleland as a region needs to celebrate its culture and traditions. It needs to heal from past bitter experiences. Therefore festivals need to play a major role in pushing the Matabeleland narrative and starting conversations around grey areas in our history, governance and human rights issues.