It is time to revive the SADC arts and culture festivals project

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By Stephen Chifunyise

The SADC Arts and Culture Festivals project, which was initiated in 1994 by the SADC Culture, Information and Sport sector, began with the hosting by Zimbabwe of the SADC Music Festival in Harare in 1995.

Mozambique hosted the SADC Theatre Festival in 1997. In 2000, Namibia hosted the SADC Visual Arts and Crafts Exhibition.

Zimbabwe hosted the SADC Dance Festival in 2001.  The SADC Multi-Disciplinary Arts Festival, which was hosted by South Africa in 2003, seemed to have closed the SADC Arts and Culture Festival project.

In April this year, some leaders of national arts associations in Zimbabwe sought to establish a platform for getting leaders of national arts organisations in the SADC  to appeal to  the  38th SADC Summit for the revival of the SADC Arts and Culture Festivals project.

Unfortunately, this effort did not materialise as it became evident that even to get all leaders of national arts organisation in Zimbabwe to get together and discuss about SADC would need more time . There had been no occasions  since 2003 for the stakeholders in the arts and culture sector in Zimbabwe to meet and discuss about programmes and activities of the SADC Culture, Information and Sport sector .

At the end of the SADC Multi-Disciplinary Arts Festival in Johannesburg in 2003, many officials from different member states who had participated in preparing for the SADC Visual Arts And Craft Exhibition, the SADC Dance Festival, the SADC Theatre Festival and the SADC Music Festival were doubtful that any of the SADC member states, apart from South Africa, would offer to host another SADC Multi-Disciplinary Arts Festival.

It was clear to many officials then that for the SADC Arts and Culture Festival project to survive, the idea of the single discipline arts festival would need to be revisited. Apparently this did not happen.

Writing in the SADC Today of August 1997 (Volume1.Number 4), Tinashe Madava described the SADC Theatre Festival that had been held in Maputo as “a showcase of Southern African cultural goldfield which can enhance integration and reinforce peace and stability”.

 Madava cited  the then SADC Deputy Executive Secretary, L. Monyake, who was touched by the impact of the SADC Theatre Festival as emphasising the importance of stakeholders in the implementation of SADC policies and programmes when he said  the SADC Culture, Information and Sport Sector should “mobilise its numerous and dynamic stakeholders  to carry out  the arts and culture festivals”.

The International Labour Organisation report  of 2003 that provided research, analysis and recommendations on the performing arts in the SADC (Promoting the Culture Sector through Job Creation  and Small Enterprises Development: Performing Arts and Dance) summarised well the aims of the  SADC Arts and Culture Festivals  by stating: “The SADC Arts and Culture Festivals Project was established to promote cultural exchanges within the region. The project also aims to increase awareness of the region’s rich cultural diversity, strengthening relations among the people in the region and highlighting the importance of the cultural dimensions of regional development as well as stimulating artistic creativity.”

It is necessary to capture some of the impacts and results of the SADC Arts and Culture Festivals just to emphasise the project place in regional integration.

At the SADC Dance Festival in Harare in 2001, some participants resolved to facilitate the establishment  of a SADC Dance Ensemble that was to produce a dance theatre piece featuring traditional dances of SADC for audiences in the SADC and globally.  The ensemble was to do its productions for the global market as part of fund raising for the SADC Culture Fund.

Unfortunately, this idea, which was to be presented at the second edition of the SADC Dance Festival, did not make it on the agenda of the workshops held during the SADC Multi-Disciplinary Arts Festival held in 2003 in Johannesburg.

At one of the workshops held during the SADC Music Festival in  Harare in 1995, some leaders of bands  that participated in the festival proposed the idea of a SADC Band that would perform a repertoire of popular compositions of the SADC for the purpose of touring not just the SADC region and Africa,  but the world. 

It was decided that the idea would be presented at the next SADC Music Festival after the matter had been presented by participants to their governments and to the Culture, Information and Sport Sector Coordinating Unit.

Unfortunately it was not possible for the musicians who had thought of the idea of the SADC Band to get together and firm the idea as a proposal for consideration as the second edition of the SADC Music Festival did not materialise.

The idea of the SADC Band was demonstrated two years later when Steve Dyer of South Africa and Oliver Mtukudzi of Zimbabwe created Mahube, a musical concept that encompassed African rhythm in the Southern African region.

Mahube was a collaboration of 12 musicians from South Africa, Swaziland, Malawi and Zimbabwe that first performed  at the Out of Africa concert in Munich, Germany, in 1997.

Steve Dyer was quoted by Philip Kakaza in  The Mail and Guardian  saying: ”Working with Oliver Mtukudzi  was a great experience and it was then that I started  to work on the  idea of collaborating  with other artists to interpret Southern African sounds.”

One of the results of the  SADC Theatre Festival held in Maputo in 1997 was the agreement by SADC theatre practitioners from 14 countries  on the idea of  Southern African Theatre Initiative (SATI) that was eventually established in March 1999 in Ezulwini, Swaziland. The Market Theatre of Johannesburg was appointed to lead the development of SATI as a tool for spearheading the “improvement and development  of theatre in the SADC, facilitating exchanges and sharing idea, experiences and resources  through workshops and seminars.”

Another  result of the  SADC Theatre Festival  was the publication by the Culture, Information and Sport Sector Coordinating Unit  of a book entitled “Theatre in the Region”.

In 2000, more than 100  visual artists  who attended  the SADC Visual Arts and Crafts Exhibition in Windhoek, recommended the annual hosting of the SADC Visual Arts and Crafts Exhibition. The participants established  a regional forum of curators  which was expected  to meet  and hold  workshops  to exchange experiences  during the annual exhibition. Some of the participants  produced works which were sold  and the funds  generated  deposited  in the SADC Culture Fund.

In 2001, 14 SADC Heads of State and Government meeting in Blantyre ,Malawi,  signed  the SADC Protocol on Culture Information and Sport  which indicated  that member states  shall:

- organise and cause to organise arts and culture festivals to purpose the ideas of regional integration;

- take such policy resources as are necessary to attract private sector investment in festivals as well as facilitate their commercialisation in order to ensure their viability and sustainability;

- organize joint staging of international festivals of arts and culture;

 -  collaborate in providing  practical support to the SADC Hall of Fame.

The protocol was to a great extent, an endorsement by the SADC Heads of State and Government of the importance of the SADC Arts and Culture Festivals in regional integration.

Before this summit  it was not evident that the SADC Arts and Culture Festival project had been featured  in the  SADC integration agenda.

The protocol  also confirmed the position that the SADC Arts and Culture Festivals could be commercialised through  private investment into the festivals. Before the adoption of the protocol, the SADC Arts and Culture Festivals  had benefited from donor support and SADC’s development partners.

The protocol also gave room for public-private partnership in funding the SADC Arts and Culture Festivals. It also promoted member states jointly staging arts and culture festivals.

It is not just the implementation of the protocol on Culture Information and Sport and the necessity of resuscitating programmes of the Culture Information and Sport Sector that justifies the urgent call for the revival of the SADC Arts and Culture Festival project, but also the  demand for  active participation of SADC culture sector in many programmes in regional integration such as programmes of implementing the Action Plan for the Accelerated Industry Development in Africa, the SADC Industrial Development Policy Framework and the Action Plan for SADC Industrialisation Strategy and Roadmap.

 

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