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International Culture University in Zimbabwe journal – Volume 01 – 2013
Nhimbe Trust
October 13, 2013

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Traversing Bulawayo’s Youth Centres

The stagnation of growth in the arts sector has been blamed by many on the lack of performance venues. If this is taken to mean the absence of the physical buildings in which performances can take place, then this is not true. What is lacking is capital investment to rehabilitate the existing buildings, which are plentiful, and to put in place proper management structures that can stimulate grassroots development of the arts and sustainable performances by arts practitioners.

I was thinking of this as I took a mini-tour of Bulawayo’s youth centres, which are located in almost every suburb of Bulawayo and are run by the Bulawayo City Council.

Opinion on Bulawayo’s numerous youth centres has, most of the time, taken the ‘glass is half-empty’ view. The common rhetoric is that the youth centres have been destroyed, by the economy, by the authority that runs them, in this case, the Bulawayo City Council. The factors that have led to the non-performance of youth centres are many, but the core of the problem is that art and culture are considered side issues by the Zimbabwean government and, without proper buy-in from the government, youth centres and other recreational facilities will remain desolate.

“These places are now shells, white elephants so to speak,” one parent, who is part of the parents committee at Inyathi Youth Centre in Mpopoma, said when I sought an audience with him. “These places used to be vibrant, they used to be sources of employment even,” he added with a sense of dejection.

When I had passed through the centre in the morning, about twenty young men were playing soccer on the youth centre grounds. Passing through the same place in the late afternoon I saw a group of young women playing netball. I did not share the old man’s pessimism. The youth centres can be put to good use and help the many youths who spend the day at the shops for lack of anything better to do with their time.

Putting the youth centres to good use will not be easy, but it is an achievable task with buy-in from all the relevant stakeholders. And the government has to be the major player, otherwise we will be chasing the wind. Inyathi Youth Centre is bigger and is in a better state than the likes of Luveve Youth Centre, which does not have electricity or any furniture to speak of. In a week I visited about five youth centres and I realised that almost all of them have ample space that could be turned into dance studios, theatre rooms, film studios or even music studios. It would be possible for the youth centres to have a proper management structure and to have resident dance, theatre, film, theatre and music instructors who can guide those who want to take up the arts as a viable career option. Maybe because I never saw the glory days of youth centres, I see them now as what they can become, not moan about what they used to be. When I look at the youth centres dotted around the city of Bulawayo, I see a glass that is half full.

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