Cultural Festivals Reinforce African Traditions

Sibongile Mpofu

Bulawayo, Zimbabwe - Oct 2007

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A scholar once wrote: “A people without culture are not a people at all”. Perhaps it is a similar school of thought that underlines the drive of African governments to reinforce traditional cultural values by supporting national arts councils and associated organisations that can play a crucial role in its promotion.

Zimbabwe is no exception, the country has gone to great lengths to promote art and culture through establishing and supporting organisations in various parts of the country, so as to cater for the diversity of local cultures.

In the Southern African region September is possibly the most active month where culture is concerned. During this time a host of festivals and events are held to celebrate, promote and inculcate the spirit of cultural identity amongst the populace.

Zimbabwe recently saw the celebration of ‘Intwasa’ Arts Festival, an annual multidisciplinary event held by the National Arts Council of Zimbabwe. The event brought together various forms of art, e.g. visual arts, theatre, music, literary arts and dance under one roof.

South Africa celebrated Heritage Day, an event that celebrates all the different cultures of South Africa’s rainbow nation. During the event South Africans across the spectrum are encouraged to celebrate their diverse beliefs and traditions.

In Swaziland September saw the hosting of the ‘Umhlanga’ (Reed Dance), an annual cultural event that seeks to honour King Mswati’s mother. The occasion is a major attraction for maidens, through participating in the ‘Reed Dance’ they are able to show and celebrate their purity.

Botswana also held a national arts and cultural festival during the same month with a similar aim of buttressing its heritage.

In Zimbabwe cultural organisations have played a vital role in reinforcing and promoting local values and it is for this reason that the National Arts Council of Zimbabwe has received support from both government and the private sector to run its programmes. During this year’s ‘Intwasa’ festival close to Z$1.5 billion was raised through sponsorship from amongst others, diplomatic missions, corporations and individuals.

Director of the festival, Mr Ben Martins Dube told local media that apart from celebrating cultural heritage, the festival also aimed to act as a platform through which people in the arts and business could network. Mr Dube, who is also the regional director for the National Arts Council of Zimbabwe, said “the objectives of the festival are amongst others, to celebrate the arts, to market Bulawayo as a preferred tourist destination and to create employment and promote sustainability for artists, groups and technical people involved in the arts”.

Traditionalists and scholars feel such cultural festivals play an important part in helping people find meaning, develop a sense of self worth and community. Annahstacia Ndlovu, a third-year media student at the National University of Science and Technology said “cultural festivals are an important part of national development as they help preserve customs/ values and promote ‘ubuntu'” (a sense of sharing, consideration, togetherness that connects all humanity).

“Festivals like Intwasa and Umhlanga help us learn about how our forefathers lived. They help us trace our history and encourage us to embrace our own values”.

Local elder and former Deputy Mayor of the city of Bulawayo, Alderman Charles Mpofu said “cultural events were vital in acquainting younger generations with values and traditions of the past. He however said there is a need to come up with an all-encompassing policy at national level, so as to ensure all cultures are promoted”.

“Government should be at the forefront of such programmes that seek to promote the beauty of our traditions and this can be done by putting in place effective frameworks that would enable artists to carry on their good works.”

Apart from promoting the arts, cultural industries have also proved to be a major source of income for thousands of artists in the country as well as downstream industries.