by Vincent Gono in Hwange — Magazine Editor, Sunday News
THE celebration of tribal and lingual diversity in the country can only be achieved through recognition of languages and preservation of cultural artefacts that tell the history of origin to avoid extinction of the so-called minority cultures and languages through academic association and general belittling.A people’s language carries their history, their identity and their culture and should be protected from vandalism by cultural imperialists.
Guided by that axiom, the National Museums and Monuments of Zimbabwe (NMMZ) is looking for resources to fund the completion of the Nambya Museum in Hwange.
An initial figure of $53 000 was proposed for the first phase of the project that entails refurbishment of the museum, research and documentation to produce an exhibition storyline as well as exhibition design and mounting.
The structure, which stands as a museum today, was donated to the Nambyan community by Hwange Colliery Company in 2006 in the form of a dilapidated sports pavilion and has for a good number of years remained in that state due to lack of funds to put it into shape as well as capacitate it to be among other museums of its nature in the country.
The lack of financial resources has seen the locals under the banner of friends of the museum chipping in and assisting the efforts of NMMZ. They recently bought and fixed all the 182 window panes at a total cost of $400.
The director of NMMZ, Dr Godfrey Mahachi, said his department was working flat out to ensure the mobilisation of the requisite financial resources so that the museum could be completed.
He said the idea to capacitate community museums so that they serve their communities fully in the preservation of their cultural heritage and identity was mooted under the Community Museums Development Programme embraced in the year 2000 by his department which falls under the Ministry of Home Affairs.
The programme, however, hit a snag in the years preceding dollarisation as the department was faced by a myriad of challenges that included but were not limited to the exodus of qualified and experienced staff to greener pastures across the country’s borders.
The problems, he said, were further perpetuated by the acute shortage of funds that characterised the inclusive Government era that saw the country’s museums department being poorly funded and operating with a skeletal staff while other museums were forced to close down operations.
“I am well aware of the situation in our museums. Something definitely needs to be done to restore them to their past glory. Some of the structures need to be worked on like the Nambya Museum in Hwange that is still not complete. Let it be clear and understood that we are not neglecting the museum. We are worried by the number of years it has taken us to complete it but we are mobilising resources so that we finish the work and make it fully functional.
“You would appreciate that like most of the institutions in the country before and after dollarisation, our capacity was heavily constrained by lack of resources. The department was no exception in the exodus of staff as we lost quite a number of our qualified and experienced staff to better paying countries,” he said.
Dr Mahachi said full capacitating of the country’s museums was a major component of the tourism sector as community museums were the best place to visit if one is interested in knowing the community’s culture.
“If the museums are fully capacitated to do more, then the tourism sector becomes robust and a little easier to promote to both local and foreign visitors,” he said.
He noted that the BaTonga Museum in Binga was one of the few community museums in the country fully functional and where the cultural story of the Tonga people could be told.
He said although the department had enough capacity in terms of research it were the material and financial resources that were lacking to make their work complete, adding that they were courting the private sector to help them develop and capacitate the community museums and promote community tourism in the long run.
“For too long, Zimbabwe’s cultural diversity has been misrepresented. To see the country as only constituted by the Shona and Ndebele ethnic groups is a gross reduction of its cultural richness and at the same time a regrettable denial of space to other small but equally important hitherto marginalised ethnic communities.
“The community museum concept is the new tool to open democratic space for equal cultural opportunities, recognition, appreciation and participation. All cultures are equal and have a role to play for the development of humanity and need to be treated as such.
It is only through supporting such initiatives that the full potential of humanity can be achieved. In the past, many minority cultures have grossly lost their identities or even faced extinction either because of suppression, exclusion or because of non-recognition. In essence, what has happened is that humanity lost its richness irretrievably,” said Dr Mahachi.
He added that it was his desire to see the erection of various community museums and other places of historical significance in all parts of the country so that the untold history associated with most communities could be told.
Nambya Community Museum advisory board chairperson Hebert Sansole said after glazing the entire facility they were now looking at getting all the doors as well as courting the private sector to paint it.
“We are looking at getting the plan from the NMMZ of how they want the entire building to look like. We have little in terms of artefacts but we hope the Museums Department will deploy researchers to get more from the Nambya ruins such as Bumbusi, Shangano and Nala.
“We also want to commend our traditional leaders for appreciating and pushing for the completion of the museum,” he said.
The museum’s heritage education officer, Christopher Tshuma, said the community was very eager to see the museum complete.
He said the importance of a people’s language could never be over-emphasised adding that the importance of Nambya as a language was first noted in 1960 by the Roman Catholic Church that used to conduct mass in SiNdebele and Nyanja but realised that the numbers were gradually dwindling.
After consultations they learnt that they were not using the language of the area and when they changed to Nambya the numbers started increasing.
This, he said, gave the impetus and the commitment to Father Augustine Moreno with the help of locals to pen a Nambya dictionary as well as other books.