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Monday, 5 April 2010

A new Ministry for Culture?

A recent article in the Post, written largely from the "artists" perspective, argues that there's consensus among cultural watchers for a Ministry dedicated to culture to "help preserve culture" and ensure the industry contributes towards development. I was under the impression that we want a leaner government not more ministries? In general the article makes some good points about inadequate infrastructure, but on the critical question of why a new Ministry is the answer, it is far from convincing. The main argument appears to be "signalling" serious intent, unfortunately we already have many ministries which delivers nothing e.g. Ministry for Gender and Development, Ministry of  Development and Social Services, Ministry of Youth and Child Development. I would abolish these three before I thought about a new Ministry of "culture".

The ministry of culture, G K Jali, The Post, Commentary :

The question of a ministry of culture has haunted Zambia since independence. Individuals and organisations with an interest in culture have over the years spoken out about the need for a ministry specifically and specially dealing with cultural matters. Among those who have spoken loudest are artistes from various fields and organisations. This is because the arts are an important integral part of culture and cultural development.

The arts are a means of not only promoting but also preserving culture. Many cultural events, for example, include artistic forms of cultural expression. The installation of traditional rulers is one occasion during which artistic expression is paramount. The installation programme usually

includes some performances in dance, music, poetry and drama. Calendrical traditional ceremonies are also occasions at which the arts play a prominent role. Among the ceremonies where artistic expression is an integral part of the programme are the Kuomboka of the Lozi, Shimunenga of the Ila, Lwiindi of the Tonga, and Umutomboko of the Lunda. Others are the Likumbi lya Mize of the Luvale and Nc’wala of the Ngoni.

It is beyond debate that Zambia is a culturally rich country. What has been the subject of debate however is the country’s failure to establish a fully fledged ministry dealing with the arts and culture. While politicians have argued that the government has not neglected culture, other stakeholders, especially the artistes, have argued that the government has not done enough to promote the arts and culture; that it is not committed to a systematic and deliberate approach to the development of the arts and culture.

The government’s critics point to a number of indicators. One, the government’s failure to build the infrastructure necessary for the promotion of the arts, such as theatres and adequate educational institutions designed for the teaching of the arts.

Some artistes were angered by the conversion, not too long ago, of the Venus Theatre in Kabwe into a court room, despite the fact that the venue was the only one designed for theatre performances in Kabwe. How could a government committed to the promotion and development of culture in general, and of the arts in particular, allow the ‘death’ of Venus Theatre? Why didn’t the government build a complex for the judiciary instead of grabbing a theatre venue?

Another example of the government’s lack of commitment to building cultural infrastructure, according to the critics, is the failure to build the national cultural centre on a piece of land north of the Mass Media Complex in Lusaka. The land was allocated years back, and the building plan for the cultural complex was also done years back. Yet, apart from the wall around the piece of land, nothing has been done in terms of construction. Not even one brick has been laid, and instead of a building springing up at the site, only shrubs and grass have sprouted.

Questions have been raised. Why obtain a piece of land, in a prime area for that matter, and not utilise it in line with the purpose for which it was obtained? Why neglect such an important national project which should become one of the symbols of our cultural identity as a nation? So serious is the degree of neglect, in fact, that even a portion of the wall around the piece of land has collapsed.

Two, the government’s lack of seriousness in creating a ministry specifically responsible for culture and the arts. What has happened, over the years, is that the government has moved cultural affairs from one ministry to another, and even then cultural affairs have been mainly handled by a department in the chosen ministry. Thus, for example, culture has in the past been under the ministries of tourism, youth and sport, and education. At present cultural affairs are handled mostly by the Department of Cultural Affairs under the Ministry of Community Development and Social Services. If the government were serious about culture, the critics argue, it would have given culture a full ministry of its own instead of downgrading it to departmental level.

Three, the lack of adequate governmental funding of the cultural sector. The arts, especially, have not received the level of financial attention that it deserves. The funding to the artistic sector, through the National Arts Council and other avenues, is so inadequate that nothing much can be achieve with governmental funding. In fact the National Arts Council itself is not properly or adequately funded. Whatever it receives from the government is not enough even to fund the major programmes, yet it has to share the little funds with the various arts associations.

Which brings us to the fourth area of criticism. Critics of government argue that the government does not consider the arts and culture to be a priority to the development of the country. The arts and culture are most likely at the very bottom of the government’s list of priorities. The only solution, according to the artistes, is for the government to show commitment to the arts and culture by being decisive on the issue of establishing a ministry responsible for culture and the arts.

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