BY WINSTONE ANTONIO
THE country’s national dress fabric meant to promote and preserve national identity launched by President Emmerson Mnangagwa at the State House at the weekend has been met with mixed reactions.
The search for the national dress fabric, which encompasses State symbols such as the Zimbabwe Bird, the national flag and the chevron pattern, is said to have entailed comprehensive consultations with different stakeholders and ethnic groups from the country’s 10 provinces.
First Lady Auxillia Mnangagwa is said to have assigned Women Affairs, Community, Small and Medium Enterprises Development minister Sithembiso Nyoni to oversee the national dress fabric effort for her.
In an interview with NewsDay Life & Style yesterday, some designers and stakeholders in the fashion industry said they were not aware of the consultation processes, which they felt should have been done through the office of Youth, Sport, Arts and Recreation minister Kirsty Coventry.
Seasoned fashion designer and director of Ashava Designs, which offers a wide range of African and ethnic wear, Rose “Ashava” Vambe, said it was the design of a national dress or outfit that defined Zimbabweans not the design of a State fabric.
“I am not really for the idea. My wish has never been for the fabric because it (fabric) does not define us as Zimbabweans, especially this one they have just done. The colours are not even showing us as Zimbabweans. I am for the design and the fabric should just be our national colours,” she said.
“The prints can be designed anywhere as long as they are national colours, the designs are what is very important for me, look at that fabric also, and it has no boundaries which designs can be made on. How can you expect to see someone wearing a bum short on a national material?”
Ashava said the design of a national dress was long overdue and there was also supposed to be guidelines on how the State fabric would be worn.
“As far as I am concerned, Zimbabwe is a cultural country with its own flag. If they would have wanted to go cultural, I think they should have used black and white and put that national bird. I am not against the national bird being on the fabric, but the colours which are not reflecting us as Zimbabweans,” she said.
“I am for the dress itself not the fabric, the dress that would be an outfit or a shirt shows how a person should look. I don’t believe Zimbabweans should be identified in trousers as women, in shorts as women, in miniskirts as women, I believe Zimbabwean women should be identified by the way we dress, the fabric is not for me.”
Another seasoned fashion guru, who chose to remain anonymous for fear of persecution, but sharing the same sentiments as Ashava, said the launch of the national dress fabric was hurried.
She said those considered as local top designers should have worked on the national dress designs that identify Zimbabwean citizens wherever they go before the launch of the fabric.
“There was need for an agreed different national dress design first that almost reflects the desires of the majority before launching the national fabric that is only approved by an individual on behalf of the citizens,” she said.
“When you are choosing a national cloth, it has to have a meaning, it has to be something such that when you wear it, despite the material, it should have a meaning as to why one is wearing the dress and why wearing it like that.
“So when we wear the national dress in a foreign land, we must be able to explain the details on it if one is asked about it. So the explanation must come from the dress and people should be able to explain its detail.”
South Africa-based Zimbabwean fashion designer Kuda Matiza said the launch of the national dress fabric was a wonderful initiative.
“It is the start of cementing our own identity through clothing. I think we can always develop the design aesthetic and make it appeal to more Zimbabweans locally and globally,” he said.
“It would also be great if we can include Zimbabwean designers who are based abroad on the next launch that will definitely add on to the authenticity.”
Another veteran designer, who also requested not to be named, said she only came to know of the national dress fabric after seeing pictures that went viral on different social media platforms after its exhibition.
“Sadly as an industry, I feel left out on this national cause. I think we should have been consulted through our Youth, Sport, Arts and Recreation minister Kirsty Coventry instead of the project to be co-ordinated by those under the First Lady’s arms,” she said.
Responding to Information, Media and Broadcasting Services permanent secretary Ndavaningi Mangwana on Twitter, Elvis Dumba said: “Are we not borrowing other African countries’ dress codes? We were already wearing those, so why launch something which is already there and how does the dressing in the pictures depict that this is Zimbabwean dress when our neighbours have been dressing the same?”
Meanwhile, it appears government has succumbed to public pressure and has re-assigned sculptor David Mutasa to redo the controversial statue of liberation icon and spirit medium Nehanda Charwe Nyakasikana, popularly known as Mbuya Nehanda.
Presidential spokesperson George Charamba on Friday revealed that Mnangagwa had disapproved the initial statue and Mutasa would recreate it.
After the public outcry, it has emerged that President Emmerson Mnangagwa was also not impressed by the youthful-looking Mbuya Nehanda’s statue such that he ordered Mutasa to redo the sculpture to original portrayal that many could relate to from history books.
Former Herald acting editor Tichaona Zindoga posted on Twitter that: “The order by @edmnangagwa (Mnangagwa) for redo of #MbuyaNehanda statue betrays lots of what’s wrong with the regime. It lacks creativity, confidence and ultimately legitimacy, deriving from vacuous intellectual space that now occupies the centre.”