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  • New Constitution-making process - Index of articles

  • Artists and the Constitution - Mindblast public discussion
    Amanda Atwood,
    February 24, 2010

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    On February 24, at a Mindblast public meeting, Culture Fund director Farai Mpfunya and musician and arts educator Chris Timbe presented their views on the topic: What artists want in a new constitution.

    Mpfunya opened the discussion by asking the question "what is culture." He said that culture is the way we choose to live in this country. The arts, he said, are where you go to test your values. But in Zimbabwe, artists do not assert their importance in society. War veterans, he said, made a noise, and in that way got their demands heard. The culture sector, however, did not make a noise, and so have not been included in the thematic areas to be discussed in the making of a new Constitution. Listen

    Mpfunya commented the Select Committee and government were ignorant in the importance that culture plays in the making of a new Constitution. You cannot craft a Constitution without taking into account the cultural context within which it will operate. Therefore, anyone who ignores the culture sector and the arts does it at their own peril.

    Thus, artists need to assert themselves and get their voices heard in the Constitution making process. What do artists want in the Constitution? They want all the rights and liberties that are enjoyed by everyone else. They want freedom of language, expression, religion, and the right to life. They want their own views included about the beliefs and traditions and identity of Zimbabwe. Listen

    Chris Timbe, who is a member of the Constitutional Outreach team, said that they are working to include artists' views in the Constitution, but one of the challenges they are facing is a lack of funds for outreach and public discussion.

    However, he was confident that the public consultation process, which was open to submissions from all Zimbabweans, would ensure that the views of artists were incorporated into the new Constitution. Culture is the backbone of the Constitution, he said, and plays a big part in defining what democracy is. Listen

    The meeting was then opened to the floor for contributions from participants.

    Why is it the arts sector always has to get into national processes through the back door? They are not given first preference, even though development scholars recognise the value of arts in transformation. Listen

    The arts have gone back to those times when people just say there's no money. We aren't being given too much liberty to research our cultural views and background. You can't research your past when there is no liberty and no freedom. Listen

    The issue is not securing artistic freedom in the Constitution. The issue is political freedom. Otherwise, the moment someone produces something which is seen as going against a certain government, it will not get airplay or support. So it is wiser to state that we want political freedom, so that politicians don't interfere with artistic creations.

    We underground artists have our demands. Firstly, the Ministry of Arts and Culture should be on its own. Secondly, government should make studio space available for artists for free, so that they can record their material and sell it. We also want free publishing houses, where you can come and print your material, and leave. Basically, we want empowerment. Listen

    Musician Victor Kunonga commented that for the last 30 years we haven't been happy in how we live. People don't earn what they deserve. Whatever freedoms that we have, on radio, in poetry, in music, artists have to get paid for it.

    Performing artist Kessia observed that the Ministry of Arts and Culture needs to be run by someone with a passion for music, who understands the genres, the performers, the issues facing artists and the players in the arts industry. As women, we need value, so that we are recognised as artists, not as sexual property. We also need a channel for artists which showcases the arts. The space is too limited for us. Listen

    John Stewart commented that there is a conflation of two ideas in the word culture. We need to distinguish between traditions and culture - which is active and dynamic and changing. Somehow those two are often conflated, and we need to bring both into the discussion, but not say that they are the same. The other difficult issue is the question of censorship. What are the limits of freedom of expression. This should not be legislated, but should be expressed in the Constitution. There needs to be a limit to censorship, but not an exclusion of it. There are various kinds of expression which are damaging, such as child pornography and pornography in general. There are things that need some kind of absolute limitation. But we must have limits to these limits. There is also the issue of multiple cultures, multiple identities. We need to get away from the idea of a monolithic culture, a single political or cultural message. Something in the Constitution needs to be clear about the multiplicity of culture and traditions. We also need a clear statement around tolerance, and the ways in which difference is accepted. We need an interest in otherness, not an attempt to create sameness. Listen

    Our Constutiton should strongly kerb cultural imperialism. We need a Constiuttion that will even allow the locals to copyright things like language and idioms. Culture is dynamic. Who is dominating? There is a difference between mimicking the West and making it dynamic by changing through indigenous forces. And, our Constiuttion should have a Ministry of Culture. In most instances, artists are the voice of everything. But they are not being heard.

    A participant, who is also on the data collection and administration side of COPAC commented that arts and culture are not part of the 17 thematic areas. But as you know, arts and culture transcends all of those areas. It is up to those people in arts and culture to see how they can unpack the issues so that they are incorporated. Article 6 of the GPA says there should be full participation of all stakeholders within the Constitution making process, and that they should be freedom of expression. Sometimes the implementation of things is different from what was written down. As COPAC, we are in the process of consultation with all stakeholders, and no issue is not Constitutional. People are free to express their opinions and their views which they think are important. I would want to see the arts sector getting enough space within the Constitution making process that their issues are heard and included.

    Now that there is 100% local content, there should also be 100% local content of artists. If the government can just give us the platform to have some poets presenting their pieces on local television so that we get popular. That's how we market ourselves, that's how we get known. I feel that we need to promote the artists and do away with cultural imperialism. We artists are the voices of society. Whatever we jot down are the views of society about our situation. We must create some stories out of this and share them. Listen

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