The Department of Arts and Culture and the National Intangible Cultural Heritage Committee are the main implementing bodies for safeguarding intangible cultural heritage in Zimbabwe, under the overall responsibility of the Ministry of Education, Sport, Art and Culture and in cooperation with the Zimbabwe National Commission to UNESCO. Policy frameworks for the safeguarding of intangible cultural heritage were assessed in 2012 and recommendations made to the Department of Arts and Culture for strengthening them.
An important element in safeguarding activities has been training for capacity-building, including to 25 journalists, members of the National Intangible Cultural Heritage Committee, participants from key stakeholder institutions (including provincial community members and traditional chiefs), arts and culture officers and non-governmental organisations. The capacity-building workshops covered notably the following: implementation of the 2003 Convention, awareness-raising on the importance of living heritage, community-based inventorying and elaboration of nominations files to the lists of the 2003 Convention. At university level, courses in cultural development, African languages and ethnomusicology contribute to research related to intangible cultural heritage and training. The Murewa Culture Centre (hosting the Mbende Jerusarema Dance safeguarding programme) also plays a key role in promoting and safeguarding intangible cultural heritage of Zimbabwe.
Documentation on intangible cultural heritage is held in the National Archives which are accessible to local and international researchers, while respecting customary practices that govern access to certain aspects. Each year, the National Archives conducts four interviews with members of minority groups to safeguard their oral heritage and then keep the recordings. Other institutions holding relevant documentation are the National Museums and Monuments, the African Languages Research Institute (University of Zimbabwe), a children’s performing arts workshop (CHIPAWO), the Armakhosi Arts Centre and Zimbabwe College of Music.
A tentative list of elements of intangible cultural heritage along with their custodians, practitioners and representatives of related communities and institutions involved in their safeguarding has been drawn up with a view to recommending elements for future inventorying. Thus far, the Chiweshe inventory containing four elements has been established, under leadership of the chief of the Chiweshe community and using local resource persons identified by him and trained in community-based inventorying methods. In 2013-14, training was conducted on producing a cultural database that will contain this inventory and other intangible cultural heritage elements.
Much of the safeguarding activities undertaken thus far in Zimbabwe aimed at raising awareness of and promoting this heritage, such as an annual dance competition for primary schools to instil in young people the function of dance heritage in society. There are over 35 community-level and national arts festivals which often feature elements of intangible cultural heritage (music and dance, in particular) and national galas to showcase performing arts heritage. Further promotional activities include the National Arts Merit Awards (NAMA) that aims to recognize both intangible cultural heritage and practitioners/custodians. Since 2011, media coverage has increased, including social media and has become a key lever to promote intangible cultural heritage at local and national levels.
An annual education programme on national heritage that includes intangible cultural heritage has been established for primary schools. The programme is run in the form of competitions at district level, going up to provincial level and culminating with a national competition. CHIPAWO also trains children in performing arts and teachers to teach and perform various dances in schools. Young people are also educated in the production of medicinal herbs and environmentally-sustainable permaculture methods. It is worth noting that high youth unemployment has led to elements of intangible cultural heritage (such as performing arts, knowledge of medicinal plants, etc.) being viewed as potential sources of income and employment. At university level, the teaching of intangible cultural heritage has been integrated as part of cultural studies.
The National Gallery has organised a skills training workshop for basket-weavers and several non governmental centres offer education and training in different aspect of living heritage within communities. Non-formal means of transmission are still greatly valued in Zimbabwe and most masters are not associated with formal educational institutions. Some cultural centres have started to issue attendance certificates for apprentices and master practitioners are increasingly invited to train and demonstrate their skills in schools and higher education institutions.
In terms of bilateral and sub-regional cooperation, Zimbabwe has shared documentation on intangible cultural heritage of the Njele cultural space with Botswana with the possibility of a future joint nomination. The Oral Traditions Association of Zimbabwe (OTAZI) held a workshop on documenting and remembering certain periods of its history shared with Zambia, Botswana and Malawi. A network of experts in the field of intangible cultural heritage from the four countries has also been established during a workshop on implementation of the 2003 Convention.
Zimbabwe has one element, the Mbende Jerusarema Dance, inscribed on the Representative List (2008, originally proclaimed in 2005 as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity). As part of the safeguarding measures, the Murewa Culture Centre, created in 1983, was strengthened to play a greater role in the promotion of this element and intangible cultural heritage in general. In addition, a Jerusarema Mbende Safeguarding Committee has been set up.