Sitting in an open-plan building with the glare of the late afternoon sun pouring in through big windows, 21-year-old Etheline Tutayi’s face is in deep concentration as she draws a line to complete an African motif on a ceramic plate.
She proceeds to dip a paint brush into a tin of glaze paint and neatly decorates a new plate with cave painting designs.
Tutayi said that she joined the Mzilikazi Arts Centre in Bulawayo in June 2009 after completing her Ordinary Levels in order to secure a means to support herself.
She received training from the centre and decided to specialise as a ceramics decorator.
The centre currently supports young people in Bulawayo to gain new skills in creating ceramics which are sold in Zimbabwe and abroad.
Tutayi, like many other young people in Zimbabwe, feared bearing the brunt of the country’s decade-long economic meltdown and jumped onto the opportunity of joining the centre when offered the chance.
“I now have a job and experience. I’m able to make drawings of anything on the ceramic plates. I am also able to earn an income,” she said.
Another beneficiary of the project, Mthandazo Nkomo (24), confirmed that the project had significantly changed his life.
“The project has helped me to gain new skills in art as well as learn new things in my life. I can earn an income and do things that I was not able to do for myself,” he said.
Many youths in Zimbabwe are trapped in cycle of poverty and unemployment, and are constrained by social and cultural demands that hinder their development.
As a result of the collapse of the formal sector, there has been a marked informalisation of the economy over the years.
According to economists, lack of employment creation and continued retrenchments by most firms had impacted negatively on youth employment. Consequently, many young people had turned to the informal sector.
Against this background, the Mzilikazi Arts Centre is playing a critical role in providing an alternative employment route to youths that would otherwise be ignored by society.
“At least I have something to do which allows me to look after my children. I’ve also managed to acquire new skills. I now know how to do pottery. I am doing something that I love. I am able to earn a living now,” said Thembekile Ndlovu (30) who joined the project in 2008.
The centre, which is located off the Old Falls road, near Mpilo Hospital in Bulawayo’s western suburbs, has been in existence since the 1960s.
The centre comprises two main sections, a pottery department and an art school which play complementary roles.
Under the guidance of skilled instructors the centre has an ongoing programme to train and develop young people interested in ceramics.
Once fully trained, some of the potters remain at the centre to work full time at Mzilikazi pottery.
Courses offered at the school are aimed at providing training to school-leavers who have no formal qualifications, offering them the opportunity to make a meaningful contribution to society.
The centre enrols approximately 130 students who are encouraged to develop their talents in painting, drawing, graphics, photography, design, sculpture and carpentry.
Besides contributing to the preservation of the country’s material culture, the centre has also been key in providing young people with skills to cope in life.
Even while students are undergoing training, they have an opportunity to generate income through selling their work.
However, in recent years the Mzilikazi Arts Centre has experienced numerous challenges due to the country’s economic fallout.
The centre is currently working closely with the International Labour Organisation to expand its outreach initiatives.