BY EVANS MURANGANWA
Situated in Mbare is Zimbabwe’s largest curio market where you find traditional artifacts such as mortars and pestles, mbira instruments, beads among other traditional artworks.
A mere glimpse at the building that houses the curio market which is near the bus terminus reveals the country’s culture which is a vital cog in the tourism sector.
News of the South had the chance to speak to the curio hawkers and some of the producers of the traditional artifacts on how the business is faring.
As Gogo Annamore Chivizhe (72) narrates, she points to a waning business compared to yester- years.
“When I was still young this place was indeed a tourist attraction as tourists mainly whites would frequent the place to buy traditional artefacts but all that changed at the turn of the millennium owing to the sour relationship between the country and the West,” recalls Gogo Chivizhe.
Gogo is into pottery a talent she learnt from her mother while in her rural area in Wedza which is about 127kilometres south of Harare.
“It was some years ago after learning to make clay pots and hawkers used to frequent our area to buy our clay pots for selling at this market when I decided to come to Harare and found a stall where I now sell my own products,” said the affable Chivizhe as she pointed to her neatly displayed clay pots.
For Gogo Chivizhe business was brisk and she was able to build her own house in the sprawling suburb of Epworth.
All her four children were able to attend school up to ordinary level through the income she was getting from the sale of these wares.
Last year, the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority launched ‘Township Tourism’ amid pomp and fanfare an event which was officially opened by Vice President Joyce Mujuru but for one young curio hawker who identified himself as Gerald the event was a mere grandstanding that has not yielded anything yet.
“From my own understanding this place falls under the township tourism they launched last year.
“But the hullabaloo has not translated into tangible things yet, still very few tourists are visiting the place,” argued Gerald.
Gerald even confirmed to this reporter he was among those people who were bailed out by the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority at the just ended UNWTO General Assembly in Victoria Fall after they had incurred huge losses when they had anticipated a business boom of their arts products.
A basket weaver from Lupane said the low inflow of foreign tourists has rendered her business unviable as she has to incur huge costs of transporting the baskets to the curio market.
“Most hawkers no longer come to buy our baskets as their business less profitable. We have now resorted to exhibitions where we expose ourselves to international markets, ”said Stembile Ncube.
This reporter spoke at length with Stephen Chifunyise, a cultural guru who acknowledged that arrival of foreign tourists who buy art products has plummeted over the years.
“Tourists used to be the main buyers of art products and the numbers have been reduced and has led to the prices of artworks to fall.
“Moreso, a number of agencies used to visit Zimbabwe and they would buy artworks from artists then sell them overseas but now they are now few,”said Chifunyise.
“The few that have left are most from South Africa who buy the products here cheap and then sell them abroad,”he added.
He said there was the need to start afresh on new marketing gimmick to sustain the arts sector again.
“There is the need of a concerted approach by different ministries like sports, arts and culture, small to medium enterprises, ministry of youth, indigenisation and empowerment, ministry of tourism and the local government ministry to come up with a national marketing strategy,” reiterated the culture enthusiast.
Chifunyise also called for a co-ordinated approach of coming up with the best collection of artworks from the finest artists for bigger events such as the just ended UNWTO.
“I have been calling for this that we need to take the best art products from across the country and then place near the delegates at an event that will sell our brand well unlike showing a mishmash of
artworks, ”argued Chifunyise.
He said also said the complaints coming from artists who were conducting business at the just ended UNWTO would never have been heard.
The culture guru said another innovation would be applying for UNESCO to declare the city of Harare as a sculpture city.
“I have been discussing with my colleagues in the arts sector for UNESCO status of a sculpture city for Harare.
“We know Edinburgh is a city of literature and Spain a city of fashion and designing. So it will be worthwhile for Harare to have that status as tourists would know what to expect when they visit, ”cited Chifunyise.
As a partying slot he said the government should look on how to unlock markets for artworks just like how they are concerned with the marketing of the Marange diamonds.
Culture and creative industries are now mostly being used to promote destinations and enhance their competitiveness and attractiveness.
Many countries are now actively developing their tangible and intangible cultural assets as a means of developing comparative advantages in an increasingly competitive tourism marketplace, and to
create local distinctiveness in the face of globalisation .
Zimbabwe has many cultural hubs like the Mbare Curio market, the Great Zimbabwe and the Ziwa ruins in Nyanga.
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