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Why Cultural Symbols Matter — Lessons From The Removal Of The Nguni Shield At The Bulawayo Airport

Central government's removal of the signage with the Nguni shield at the JMN International airport is perceived as an attack on a people's culture.

BY THABANI H. MOYO | @thabanih | This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. | MAY 24, 2022

The Nguni shield is a priceless emblem for the people of Matabeleland having been inherited down generations from the days of the last paramount king, Lobengula.

BULAWAYO (The Citizen Bulletin) — Perceived as an attack on a people’s culture, history and heritage, the removal of the signage with the Nguni shield at the Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo (JMN) International airport was met with disappointment and disillusionment by many in Matabeleland.

They saw it as an attack on their identity and cultural fabric.

The Nguni shield, with the spear and knobkierie which are traditional weapons that have remained a part of the cultural fabric of Matabeleland carries with it multiple meanings.

It carries the soul of the region’s culture and its presence at the JMN International airport gave people of Matabeleland a sense of ownership of the airport and a sense of unity and belonging.

Cultural symbols transmit non-verbal messages, consisting of a sender, a receiver and channel of communication.

What message was transmitted by pulling down the shield signage? Was this an attempt by authorities to distort or erase a community’s identity?

For the region, the signage was some form of communication and had a message. To replace it with the Zimbabwe Coat of arms was also a way of communication. To most people, it seemed as if Zimbabwe was more important than the diversity of cultures that it has.

We are living in an age when the world strives to guard and preserve cultural heritage. It is therefore important that as a country we safeguard our heritage.

The shield signage at JMN International airport helped to define a people’s history and way of life.

Every human society has a culture. Culture includes a society's arts, beliefs, customs, institutions, inventions, language, technology, and values. Culture produces similar behaviour and thought among most people in a particular society.

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The responsible Ministry of Transport and Infrastructural Development later issued a statement apologising for the ‘hasty’ removal of the signage without notifying the stakeholders.

It promised to hold consultations with various stakeholders on the best signage which will factor in and capture the regional sentiments and desires. It is hoped that the ministry will keep its promise.