Zvamaida Murwira Senior Reporter
Africa should insist that archives and museum objects of its heroes should be originals, not digital copies, with Zimbabwe one of the countries with the facilities ready to receive and protect this heritage, President Mnangagwa has said.
Speaking yesterday at the opening of the International Conference of African cultures that drew traditional leaders from the continent, academics, African Union officials and others the President said it was critical to note that liberation movements over the continent did not solely fight for the realisation of political and economic independence but at the core of the struggle was socio-cultural emancipation and ownership of means of production.
The conference, running under the theme “Africa Speaks: Confronting Restitution and Repatriation of Artefacts, Human Remains, Objects and Archives from an African Perspective,” was meant to showcase African culture and rally the continent on the demand of repatriation of colonial artefacts so as to restore Africa’s integrity.
In common with most of the colonised world, Africa saw a great deal of looting of cultural objects and transfers of archives to European museums, and now wants them back. While near perfect copies can now be made with 3D printers and other technology, the unanimous feeling is that the originals should be in their home countries and copies in foreign museums.
The conference also saw the showcasing of Zimbabwean culture through traditional dance and that of Ghana through regalia, poetry and other displays led by the King of Akwamu Odeneho Kwafo III.
President Mnangagwa said Africa should reunite with that which belonged to it.
“The concerned museums and institutions in the West are urged to facilitate and cooperate with Africa in the ongoing repatriation and restitution efforts. The use of pseudo-measures and terms such as ‘Digital Repatriation’ and ‘Permanent Loans’ further infringes on the do no harm philosophy and sphere standards of development, thus delaying the closure of this sad chapter of our history,” said President Mnangagwa.
“I challenge the academia, heritage experts and professional institutions across the continent to resolutely pursue ‘Chimurenga Chepfungwa/the liberation of the mind’, informed by our strong African cultural belief systems and identity.”
African traditional leaders and institutions had to be wary of some civic society organisations bent on capturing traditional systems to enable perpetual pilferage of Africa’s rich heritage while curtailing the prospects for economic growth in the communities.
This, said President Mnangagwa, becomes more pertinent and urgent as Africa moves towards delivering the economic, social and cultural aspirations of its people as envisaged in the African Union’s Agenda 2063.
“The International Conference on African Cultures is challenged to continue to unapologetically speak about and amplify the ideals and ideologies of our Founding Fathers. These must propel the restoration and preservation of our rich heritage as well as advance the modernisation, industrialisation and prosperity of our great continent,” he said.
“We must therefore leverage this platform to rally the rest of Africa along with its diaspora to speedily resolve these residual issues towards the full enjoyment of our hard won independence, dignity and identity.”
The President said Africa had to reject attempts to alienate it from its rich heritage and material culture, adding that under his leadership, together with the current generation of African leaders, there was unflinching determination to ensure that Africa’s identity was restored, promoted, preserved and safeguarded.
“On its part, Zimbabwe stands ready to receive its cultural heritage estranged to the West. The urgent repatriation of expropriated archives, museum objects, and human remains is our unequivocal demand.
“These include national artefacts and materials which relate to our heroes such as Chief Chinengundu Mashayamombe, Chief Chingaira Makoni and Chief Chiwashira among others. These are sacred and feed into our broader national, collective heritage,” said the President.
Youth, Sport, Arts and Recreation Minister Kirsty Coventry said she fully supported the restoration of artefacts that were expropriated by white colonialists.
She said although she was white in colour, her parents up to her great grand-parents were Zimbabweans and fully supported everything that was Zimbabwean.
“I am proud to be Zimbabwean. We have to fight for this identity. We need to claim that which is rightfully ours,” she said.
Council of Chiefs president Fortune Charumbira said there was need to put closure on the issue of looted cultural heritage. “Restitution and repatriation are inseparable matters to the institution of traditional leaders. As traditional leaders we are ready to take the lead in the cleansing. In addition we are unapologetic to see cultural renewal not just in Zimbabwe in Africa,” said Chief Charumbira.
King Kwafo Akoto III said he fully supported the repatriation of African artefacts to their countries of origin so that they could generate revenue through tourism.
He said Africa was fully endowed with culture.
The king also chronicled his kingship dating back to 1630, when colonialists tried to wrestle away the kingship while they were still settling around the area of Southern Sudan which saw them migrating to Ghana.
African Union Commissioner and Head of Cultural Division Mrs Amira Elfadil said restitution and repatriation was getting greater attention as enshrined in the AU Constitutive Act.
“We are aware that cultural property in Africa has been plundered and acquired illegally through trafficking and mostly during wars and armed conflicts,” she said.
She said the AU had developed a model law on the Protection of Cultural Property and Heritage aimed at guiding member states in developing and strengthening their legal frameworks.
The event was also attended by Government ministers, deputy ministers, permanent secretaries, academia, traditionalists among others from across Africa.