Interview conducted by Chidiogo Akunyili.
In April 2008, ICD interviewed Counsellor Robert Mabulala of the Zimbabwean Embassy. This interview was conducted as part of the ICD’s research for the upcoming Cultural Diplomacy in Africa Forum. The interview began with Mr. Mabulala discussing his role at the Embassy as being responsible for issues of Trade and Economic Affairs. He has been posted in Germany for the last three years after completing postings in Botswana at the Foreign Affairs office in Zimbabwe. Despite the differences in culture and environment, he describes his work at his various postings as being similar in that the main priority of his work is what is in the best interests of Zimbabwe.
Mr. Mabulala told ICD that the most prominent Zimbabwean cultural exports are the world renowned Zimbabwean Stone Sculptures. These are sculpted by Zimbabwean artists using their bare hands and displayed in exhibitions all over the world, including several places in Germany. This type of sculpting has existed in Zimbabwe for longer than anyone can remember but has only become widely known in the rest of the world since the mid-twentieth century. Zimbabwe also participates in the exchange of artists with other countries, whereby Zimbabwean artists will travel around the world to display their art and promote Zimbabwean culture. Likewise, foreign artists are invited to visit Zimbabwe and display their own works. This helps Zimbabwe to develop the relationships needed for future cooperation and trade.
Zimbabwean musicians also regularly tour Germany to perform. One of the most recent is Stella Chiweshe, who has visited Germany several times in the past to give concerts using traditional Zimbabwean instruments. Her daughter, Virginia Chiweshe, is a famous Zimbabwean musician who has also performed in Germany.
Mr Mabulala discussed the state of tourism in Zimbabwe and that previously, Germans had made up a large portion of tourism to Zimbabwe. However, since the land redistribution policies of the ZANU-PF ruling party in the early 2000s, the number of tourists visiting Zimbabwe has dropped significantly. However, the tourism industry is still alive in Zimbabwe and Mr. Mabulala believes that those who visit learn a lot about Zimbabwean culture, saying that those who visit always have positive stories when they return.
Zimbabwe is a member of the Southern African Development Community (SADAC) along with its neighbouring countries: South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Mozambique. This organisation has been created with the intention of increasing the level of cultural interaction between the member states. An example to this effect according to Mr. Mabulala is the upcoming FIFA World Cup due to be held in South Africa in 2010. As part of the arrangement, all members of SADAC will be taking responsibility for organising the event and will cooperate at all levels of its operation.
Mr. Mabulala talked further about the cultural interaction between Zimbabwe and its neighbours, talking about the arbitrary nature of national borders in Africa, established under the colonial powers: “Culturally they don’t exist.” Zimbabwe and its neighbours share common history and traditions, and there are many cases of people living in towns close to the borders of having family on the other side, not giving much thought to the existence of the national boundary. This is in contrast to the countries of Europe, which have more distinct differences between them. As such, cultural diplomacy exists within Africa on a much more community level, rather than primarily between governments.
Mr. Mabulala talked-down the racial tension in Zimbabwe since it gained independence in 1980 from the ‘racist’ colonial government. After that, Mr. Mabulala said, those who wanted to leave emigrated to other countries while those who stayed united as one nation. President Robert Mugabe’s land redistribution was thus according to Mr. Mabulala intended to address the past injustices suffered by the African population of Zimbabwe under colonialism. He reiterated that land was taken from white farmers who owned “excessive” amounts of land and returned to its traditional African owners, who had a more “spiritual” connection to it.
In answer to the question about specific present or future examples of cultural diplomacy initiatives that led or has the capacity to lead to greater intercultural dialogue, understanding, and subsequent peace, Mr. Mabulala said that there are currently few official programmes run by Zimbabwe in relation to cultural diplomacy. However, a number of artists and musicians still travel from Zimbabwe to participate in cultural events around the world, some organised by the Zimbabwean Government. Likewise, foreign artists and musicians also regularly visit Zimbabwe to participate in cultural programmes.
In response to the question of limited access of the media to Zimbabwe, Mr Mabulala didn’t believe that there was any great hindrance to media organisations or restriction on the flow of information. Finally, he says that people have a generally good idea of life in Zimbabwe and that those who are genuinely interested have access through the Zimbabwean Embassy: “That’s why we’re here.”