Kirsty’s re-appointment divides arts sector

In his new Cabinet, Mnangagwa retained several former ministers, including Coventry who has been described by some artists as having failed to robustly transform the arts and culture sector.

DESPITE the vote of no-confidence by the local creatives on Arts minister Kirsty Coventry, President Emmerson Mnangagwa surprised many by retaining the celebrated former Olympic swimmer for a second dance in Cabinet.

On Monday, Mnangagwa announced his new Cabinet at State House in Harare, a week after he was sworn in for his second term.

In his new Cabinet, Mnangagwa retained several former ministers, including Coventry who has been described by some artists as having failed to robustly transform the arts and culture sector.

Coventry, whose ministry has been reconfigured from Youth, Sport, Arts and Recreation to Sport, Recreation, Arts and Culture, will now be deputised by Emily Jesaya.

Despite calls from the creative industry to relieve Coventry of her duties as Arts minister, amid reports that she had let down the sector, Mnangagwa said he was satisfied by her performance.

“I have reappointed her because I am happy with her performance. Whoever was not impressed by her can appoint someone else when they become president,” he said.

Artists who had no kind words for Coventry said she does not appreciate the challenges they face because she does not interact with them.

In her defence, Coventry has, however, dismissed the allegations, telling NewsDay Life & Style in a previous interview that she had an open-door policy.

The celebrated athlete claimed that most people misunderstood her.

“I don’t know why they (artists) say that. I always meet with artists as I have an open-door policy. Any artist is welcome to visit my office anytime,” Coventry said.

Some creatives who spoke to NewsDay Life & Style yesterday labelled Coventry the worst minister ever.

Academic and arts critic Fred Zindi said: “If the President wants to improve the Zimbabwean arts and culture, he should appoint a more suitable minister. Coventry has been kept there simply because she is white.”

Chimurenga musician Thomas Mukanya’s former manager, Blessing Vava, said it was quite shocking that Coventry had been retained despite her underperformance for the past five years.

“Coventry has not shown any interest nor zeal for the task she was given as the minister. History will record that under her watch Zimbabwe did not play international football and the whole sports fraternity is in disarray because of her ineptitude,” Vava said.

“Being an Olympic gold medalist does not make her necessarily the right choice to run such a ministry. Politics aside, politicians like Temba Mliswa can do a far better job than Kirsty.”

Zimbabwe Musicians Union (ZIMU) president, award-winning songbird and actress, Edith “WeUtonga” Katiji said: “Coventry’s reappointment comes at a time when there has been moves in the music sector, in particular with the music strategy in place, that has been funded by the United Nations.

“What we hope is that her office will take seriously what is contained in that strategy and support associations like ZIMU that are working hard towards bringing to life what is in that strategy.

“Musicians, like others in the arts disciplines, feel that movement to act has been slow from the minister’s office and we hope that we will see some changes. We had hopes five years ago, and now we want to see some real actionable improvements to the sector. More action, less talk.”

Added WeUtonga: “Another thing, her actions or lack of thereof are reflective of the team she has. We need the directors and permanent secretary in her office to push for action too.”

Renowned theatre practitioner and executive chairperson of Performing Arts Network for Empowerment Leadership in Zimbabwe, Tafadzwa Muzondo, said Coventry’s reappointment was good for continuity in as far as pertinent professional development of performing arts and personal empowerment of performing artists is concerned.

“Coventry has not only been responsive, but supportive to some initiatives we pitched requiring her to facilitate ease of doing business with other ministries. My problems are with artists who expect a government minister to do their work for them when all a minister should do is facilitate a friendly environment for the sector,” he noted.

“I have not agreed with everything she does, but what I believe artists should harness from her reappointment is her openness to professional engagement.”

Muzondo, who is also the founder of EDZAI ISU Trust, a local community-rooted transformative arts organisation, continued: “Coventry will not know what is best or what to do for the arts if we do not approach her with detailed pitches requiring her support.

“I think it is time the industry stops crying foul everytime and takes responsible authorities to task with tangible propositions which will give us yardsticks to evaluate the government’s seriousness towards the sector.”

Seasoned creative practitioner Plot Mhako feels Coventry did not deliver much for the creative and cultural industries during her first term.

“I hoped to see more engagements, collaboration, and support from the ministry. However, the cultural policy and the music strategy were welcome developments, but the implementation and uptake by the intended beneficiaries needs more attention,” he said.

“It is my hope that in her second term she will put together a game-changing team that will help transform the industry into a viable ecosystem and economy that can benefit artists, communities and the country at large.”

Said Intwasa Arts Festival koBulawayo director-cum-arts critic Raisedon Baya: “Personally, I don’t think Coventry is the problem. I think we have a system problem. Even if you remove her and put someone else. The system will not allow them to flourish.

“There are good ideas, good policies that the ministry is just not implementing. We need to see it beyond just the person of Coventry.”

Related Topics