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What do you want to be? Interview with Farai Mpfunya
Upenyu Makoni-Muchemwa,
March 11, 2010

Read Inside / Out with Farai Mpfunya

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Farai MpfunyaExecutive Director of the Culture Fund, Farai Mpfuyna is described as a postmodern knowledge worker. He possesses a diverse knowledge base, with training in engineering, filmmaking and holds a Masters in Business Administration. He is a former executive Director of the Zimbabwe International Film Festival Trust, and is a founding Trustee of the Culture Fund. Mpfunya strongly believes that culture plays an important role in human development.

You are described as being a postmodern knowledge worker. What is this and how do you make the knowledge that you have acquired over a lifetime work for you?
The reason I am interested in knowledge is because I went to England to study for an MBA in managing information in small institutions or small organisations. I got interested in that area because I felt that information and knowledge would drive development in Africa. I felt that the use of knowledge patterns, which are refined in indigenous based knowledge systems, could be used in the modern era. Now, I work with people who are interested in ideas, information and knowledge and therefore the use of knowledge patterns. In my view that is the only way that people can create wealth. Once you harness data, information and patterns of knowledge, then you can use them to create ideas that can create wealth for you.

What does the term culture mean to you?
Culture means different things in different parts of the world. Culture defines a society and the way it chooses to live. When you unpack that way of life, then you have the complex notions of beliefs, traditions, spirituality, philosophy and the passing of memories, the aspirations of a people, and the hope that they have for defining themselves in the future. All those things constitute culture. Listen

In a recent interview with Rejoice Ngwenya, he suggested that Globalisation would result in a sort of Super Culture. Do you believe this is true, and do you think there is a place for Zimbabwean culture in that Super Culture?
I do not think that Globalisation as it is generally defined is going to undermine the peculiarities of different cultures across the world. While UNESCO says that 200 languages disappear from the world every year, I do not think that cultures are going to be consumed by the ‘mighty American super culture'. The world is changing: China and India are emerging as super powers, and these have cultures that are not going to disappear overnight. I do not think, therefore, that we need to worry too much about our cultures being consumed. There will be hybrid cultures, but I can assure you that the memories and beliefs that form what we describe as African culture are not going to disappear.

What role do you think culture plays in development?
For me development is about having a situation where individuals in a society have got as much choice as they can to decide what they want to do with their lives, this can be economically, spiritually, or otherwise. If that society can do that, then ultimately you are enhancing the highest levels of human development.

What is your opinion of the Zimbabwean cultural industry?
Cultural industries exist in a space where you have the prerequisite ingredients. Industries in general exist when you have people creating products, there is an idea of competition between people; you have suppliers and regulators. When all those things exist then you can have what is termed an industry. In Zimbabwe, the industry is underdeveloped, but it has the potential to be developed into a vibrant one.

What can Zimbabweans do to encourage the growth of our cultural industries?
The challenge for Zimbabweans is to ask themselves what they want to be; how do they want to live in their own country. Once you have chosen that, then you are responsible for the culture; the artistic expression of that culture and all the frameworks that can sustain that culture. Given the time we are at in our history, and in crafting a new Constitution, we have been given the opportunity to redefine this country for the next 500 years. Listen

What kind of Constitution would you like to see?
I want a Constitution that the Zimbabwean people can be proud of. I don't want a Constitution that changes on the whim of a political party. I'd like to see a Constitution that really reflects the chosen values of the Zimbabwean people, one that embodies the essence of what it is to be Zimbabwean. I think culture is where it all begins.

Anyone who thinks the solutions of this country are in politics is fooling himself or herself. It all begins with how we choose to live among ourselves. Once that is clear, then policies which we entrust to politicians can follow. But we must be serious and look at how we want to live as a country and create models of the values we all share and want.

How in your work with the culture fund are you promoting cultural entrepreneurship?
We have a project that we are working on with the British Council called Creative Entrepreneurship. It seeks to train about 150 individuals in the arts and culture sector every year for the next three years, in the areas of defining themselves as creative individuals, defining their business, branding themselves, self confidence and looking at positioning themselves in the local and global markets for their cultural products.

Would you say we have enough role models in the culture sector?
We do not have enough role models. We have some role models in some sub sectors like sculpture in the form of Dominic Benhura who is brilliant at creating, packaging and exporting ideas. In music we have Oliver Mtukudzi who created the Tuku brand, which is now a global brand. In literature we have award winners like John Eppel, Tsitsi Dangarembga and Charles Mungoshi. But we need many, many more.

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