HARARE – While the Zimbabwean arts industry has since 1980 steadily grown to become one of the most vibrant sectors, artists still feel their working conditions are poor.
Without proper representative institutions standing in for artists’ social and economic welfare, the sector has lagged behind in terms of real growth and professionalism.
Controversial playwright Cont Mhlanga believes working conditions for artists in this country are pathetic and shameful.
“Talk of working environment, insurance, health and safety, security and pensions, wages, employment benefits, occupational hazards (like being an entertainer at a night club) abuse by media, terrorisation by law and order security police, human resource development marginalisation, abuse by various government ministries, the artist gets the worst if they are ever lucky to get anything at all.”
“There are many factors that are contributing to the sad working conditions of the artist in Zimbabwe and most of these can only be solved through the power of organisation which unfortunately the Zimbabwean artist does not yet have a kin interest to harness,” said Mhlanga.
Writer Virginia Phiri said it is a fact that working conditions for Zimbabwean artists need to be more organised than is the case at the moment.
“This all hinges on the cultural policy which is in the process of being spruced up in order to be acceptable to artists, their managers and associations. Without this policy it is difficult to know the dos and don’ts in terms of economics on of literary works trading.”
Phiri said the arts industry in Zimbabwe needs to come up with some form of blue print to improve the conditions of service for their workers in terms of pension, medical aid, housing and insurance.
“Once these are put in place, artists and their families will obviously have improved quality of life and will be more productive,” she said.
She said once the artist community manages to get organised, there is so much work in the industry.
Other sectors which are not necessarily artistic can also benefit financially by working with artists.
“Here we are talking about the captains of commerce, industry, tourism, education and of course other artists working for established artists companies and organisations. There is potential for employment creation. Artists must take advantage of the multi-currency phase that we are in at the moment.”
Mhlanga urged leaders within the creative industries to take the industry seriously.
“This should begin with the ministry responsible for arts and culture, then the National Arts Council of Zimbabwe and the various funding organisations and agencies focusing in this sector.
“As things are being currently done within these departments it is a given that people are just looking after their own jobs and their own working conditions and not that of the generality of the creative industry workforce.”
“It is actually the corporate private sector companies who take the arts and culture sector seriously more than those that are entrusted with the responsibility of leading and investing in the sector. Once the captains of the arts and culture industries take themselves seriously and stop treating artists as charity cases only then will the artists take themselves seriously too and this will cascade to all nerves of the economy and government. We will then notice a meaningful improvement in the working environment of artists.”
He said the arts industry can be a leader in employment creation far ahead of many sectors of the national economy.
“This is because art is a product of every one’s culture and heritage and culture is the way all people go through their daily lives in amazing diversity and people’s everyday lives is business. It is the heart of the creative industry and hence can find use and service in all other industries and sectors of the economy to bring in innovation to the way people do business and live their lives. All this brings endless job creation opportunities for the arts industries. However, our arts industry suffers from lack of economic structure that leads to loss of statistics that leads to loss of investment in that industry sector,” said the playwright.
Mhlanga said things would improve in future for the arts sector. “When this time the wasteful inclusive government is history and a new elected government is in place in this country, separating arts and culture from tourism should be a thing of the past as well.”
“Arts and culture in education is a given as no government in their right senses can educate its nation minus its own arts and cultural content. One does not need arts and culture stuck in the education ministry to develop a serious arts industry.”
He said this was understandable because since independence our government has been dominated by the same educationist teachers who went from the classrooms to jails, to war camps and to government and think classroom education in an old way is everything to national prosperity.