The Herald (Harare)

Zimbabwe: Celebrating Shangaani Culture

United in diversity to change the environmental, social and economic interface of the Great Limpopo region and the world through cultural tourism, communities along the Limpopo River Basin, are poised to enter the international calendar when they hold their inaugural cultural festival mid this year.

The Great Limpopo Cultural Fair, under the auspices of Gazaland, set to take place in the small southeastern Zimbabwean town of Chiredzi and is dedicated to the celebration of Shangaani Culture.

The organisers aim to bring both traditional and post-colonial narratives to light, through art, culture, dance and music of Shangaani origin.

The idea was born out of the desire to celebrate the Shangaani culture that straddles the three countries - Zimbabwe, Mozambique and South Africa - where the Limpopo River traverses.

The concept revolves around raising awareness about Shangaani culture, its history and its immensely rich cultural heritage; bringing the latter to a wider Southern African audience and placing the region's cultural manifestations firmly on the map.

The second objective was to use the festival as a catalyser and a platform to connect the Gaza communities here in Zimbabwe and hopefully in time to extend to the rest of the Limpopo riverine community.

The Gaza community in the region is fragmented and suffers from a lack of cohesion.

According to Herbert Pikela, acting director of Gaza Trust, the inaugural cultural fair will run for two days in mid-June.

"The Great Limpopo Cultural Fair is an occasion that enables the expression of different cultures mainly those in the immediate sphere of influence of the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park for the purpose of exchange and by that process, develops these cultural products to preserve and enhance their heritage," he said.

While the idea of the fair had been on the cards for a long time, Pikela said it had taken so long because "we had to engage with different governments, local authorities and traditional structures in the three countries -- Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe".

The participants will be drawn primarily from the Great Limpopo communities - Shangaan/Tsonga (Hlengwe, Rhonga, Tshwa), Venda, Sotho, Ndau, Karanga and Ndebele -- found in the three respective countries. The Karanga people from the general area of Masvingo in Zimbabwe. Other cultural groups in Zimbabwe, South Africa and Mozambique, Africa and the world are also invited..

The southeastern town of Chiredzi will be the venue of the events, with the town's show- grounds being the epicentre of the festival. The sugar-growing town is easily accessible by road from both Mozambique and South Africa.

The Sango Border Post is shared by Mozambique and Zimbabwe while the town is also close to the Beitbridge Border Post that is shared by South Africa and Zimbabwe.

"And to those who may opt to fly, the town has Buffalo Range Airport.

"For other indoor programmes, Hippo Valley, Triangle Country Club, Nesbitt Arms Hotel and Malilangwe Lodges are proposed as alternative venues," he said.

On the details, Pikela said "the week of June 17 and 22 is provisionally proposed as the ideal dates because winters are more suitable here compared to summers that are mercilessly hot".

Communities will have the opportunity, above all, of expressing their culture, but more importantly deriving monetary value through quick sales during the exhibitions and prizes.

The cultural festival promises not only to lead to ubuntu, but also spur the communities towards solving complex continual problems through constructive social means.

Among the participants will be communities from the three respective countries, corporates in the tourism industry from the three countries, institutions of higher learning, civic society as well as the Cross Cultural Foundation of Uganda that runs a similar festival and is coming in as a special guest.

The Great Limpopo Park is a world-class eco-tourism and game park that was formed through the amalgamation of the Gonarezhou National Park, Limpopo National Park (Mozambique) and the Kruger National Park of South Africa.

While the market of the cultural occasion and related tourist benefits cannot be down- played, it is the intrinsic benefits that will count the most.

In a bid to develop and celebrate the cultural diversity of communities in the Limpopo River basin for regional environmental and socio-economic benefits, the Great Limpopo Cultural Fair is set to be held in Zimbabwe's south-east Lowveld town of Chiredzi mid-year.

According to the organisers, "Let's Unite" theme will be in vogue for the duration of the event. As a consequence, all art and crafts and music on sale will be authentic local community products.

"Since this is really a celebration of Gaza's culture, we believe we should use this platform to showcase the best from the frontier!" said Pikela.

The fair provided a grand platform for exchange with artists from other countries."

The much-awaited cultural festival, jointly funded by corporates in the region, will take place in Chiredzi during the winter months "as the summer months are mercilessly hot".

The cultural expression in song, dance, theatre and performing arts encompassing cultural giants from the region, will battle it out for honours in the festival. There will be organised transfrontier park journeys - Great Limpopo track cycling; traditional camp fire stories as well as exhibitions (cultural and corporate world).

And, to the put icing on the cake, traditional meals will be served during the course of the fair and there is a planned cultural symposium and business dinner! Who can afford to miss such?

One other note is the indication through the fair that African cultures have not existed as antagonists in their struggle to survive, but as co-existents that derived strength from diverse commonality where difference was celebrated and common features amplified to perpetuate peace.

"Applied contemporarily, this concept can be used to promote regional and global peace that is a necessity if sustainable development is to take place meaningfully," said Pikela.

If the social structures in Africa are today the primary victim of ailing political and economic institutions where irreplaceable errors are made in the process of correcting others, socio-cultural events can help show our strengths primarily as a people together not as nation states distinguished by political definitions.

"This way," said Pikela, "problems like irregular migration and the resultant xenophobia can easily be overcome in the Southern African region."

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