Musician MPs in Zim: What will change?

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By Ano Shumba

Zimbabwean musicians Elias Musakwa, Energy Mutodi and Joshua Sacco won parliamentary seats in the recently concluded elections on 30 July. The artists, who ran on the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) ticket had their victory met with mixed feelings from music critics and arts journalists.

Arts and culture advocate Chamunorwa Mashoko told Music In Africa that Musakwa, Mutodi and Sacco’s involvement in the elections proved that there was room for artists in Zimbabwean politics.

“Their election to Parliament is commendable," Mashoko said. "It shows that every citizen, including artists, has a right to stand for political office in Zimbabwe. Bryn ‘Sekuru Tau’ Mteki ran for presidency too. However, artists are naturally social commentators and their role is to inform, educate and correct the ills of society via their art.”

He said musicians in the country had hopes that the three new MPs would spearhead the implementation of an effective arts policy.

But Zimbabwean journalist Jonathan Mbiriyamveka had no kind words for the trio. “Firstly, these three musicians have one thing in common – they were not the best of musicians but they used their popularity for political mileage. Who knew Mutodi, Sacco or Musakwa before? Their goals were not about music, so they are not going to do anything to change the industry. Instead, they will be preoccupied with donations for their constituencies as well as other ribbon-cutting events. In essence, that is politics and not music. Now that they have secured parliamentary seats, you won’t see them anywhere near a stage, which means an end to their musical careers,” Mbiriyamveka said.

Music critic Plot Mhako partly mirrored Mbiriyamveka’s comments. “I don’t see these three impacting the arts sector in any way," Mhako said. "Elias Musakwa is the guy who inherited one of Africa’s most thriving record labels, Gramma Records, and ran it down. Since joining politics we have not heard anything from him in terms of advocacy for artists’ welfare and policy. It’s yet to be seen for Energy Mutodi, but it will be folly to expect much as artists.

"Sacco is reputable for working hard in his area but sadly he has presided over a constituency that used to host one of the fastest-growing arts festivals in the country, Chimanimani, which is now defunct. It would be interesting to see how much charity he can do at home for the arts.”

 

What should a new minister do?

Following ZANU-PF’s triumph against the Movement for Democratic Change Alliance in this year’s presidential race, president-elect Emmerson Mnangagwa is expected to announce a new cabinet after his inauguration on 12 August. Mnangagwa could retain the current Arts Minister Kazembe Kazembe or name a replacement to the portfolio. Commentators in Zimbabwe are confident that a new minister is on the cards.

“The new minister of the arts should establish a technical working group or an arts think tank to help him/her establish solutions to current challenges such as piracy and lack of performance spaces, among other challenges,” Mashoko said.

“In addition, the minister should honour artists such as Nobuntu, Mokoomba and Danai Gurira who are raising the Zimbabwean flag high at international stages by making them tourism ambassadors. Finally, the minister should work very hard to establish an arts fund aimed at talent development.”

Mbiriyamveka said the minister should advocate for less tax. “Apart from implementing an arts policy, the minister should engage stakeholders with a view of building a vibrant arts sector. The arts is one of the heavily taxed sectors in Zimbabwe so he better see to it that artists are not burdened by taxes.”

Mhako said Zimbabwe needed a minister who was fully aware of the creative industry at international level.

“The new minister needs to be informed about the creative processes on a global level, to constantly engage with artists from all spheres and help put in place mechanism that promote local creatives by providing an enabling environment and possible funding opportunities.

“He must also ensure an end to tokenism towards the arts. Artists don’t need handouts. They need to see piracy end or at least reduced, and they need to see more TV stations and more real government support other than officiating at events." – Music In Africa

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