Zimbabwe: Safeguarding Our Cultural Property

ZIMBABWE

THE HERALD ; 24 AUGUST 2015

The country's three statutory heritage institutions, namely the National Gallery of Zimbabwe, National Museums and Monuments of Zimbabwe and National Archives of Zimbabwe are uniting to fight against the illicit trafficking of our cultural property, in line with United Nation Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation and other international and national organisations.

Since the early colonial period, Zimbabwe has been a victim of the illegal trafficking of cultural property.

UNESCO is on the forefront of fighting to control the illicit trafficking of cultural property internationally with other international organisations, national government and institutions. UNESCO deployed normative, ethical and operational mechanisms to provide appropriate responses to these challenges and the institutions are working towards achieving this move.

Thousands of other vital and monumental objects have been looted from Zimbabwe and the illicit sale abroad of these cultural treasures continues to this day.

This is in spite of the existence of various legislative arrangements that are in place as well as the existence of National institutions such as National Museums and Monuments of Zimbabwe, National Gallery of Zimbabwe and the National Archives whose basic mandate is the protection of Zimbabwe's various cultural resources.

The main way is to combat illicit trafficking is by institutionalising the relationship between these heritage bodies with law enforcement authorities (police, customs and immigration) so that the current linkages of cultural property to external markets is managed and controlled efficiently and transparently. Illicit trafficking of cultural property poses a major threat to the preservation and protection of the Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

The illicit trafficking of cultural property generates a lucrative underground market with a great percentage of stolen artefacts never being recovered.

As long as a demand for cultural property items exists, the black market will continue to flourish. This situation poses a threat to the physical items, through looting and destruction, and also reduces the wealth of knowledge that could be gained from discovering such items in their archaeological surroundings.

It causes irreversible damage that has lasting effects on the ability of societies to develop, take shape, and recover from crises.

The three heritage bodies will work on their legislative frameworks (by law) to support the fight against illicit trafficking of cultural objects. Since, efforts were made since the year 2000 to fight the illicit trafficking of cultural objects and have been there when the economic environment began deteriorating and this situation led to the more frequent instances of theft of objects.

The National Gallery of Zimbabwe, National Museums and Monuments of Zimbabwe and the National Archives of Zimbabwe are to work on enhanced information sharing with key stakeholders through electronic inventories, raising awareness among stakeholders in the fight against cultural crime and at least have thirty people trained on how to protect cultural property.

The targeted outcome is Zimbabwe as a country to have a good management of heritage collections as part and parcel of international perception management.

This is in line with the stakeholder confidence building in cultural property crime which will result in good business practise in the cultural industry. The three institutions will benefit from formalised relationship with law enforcement agents and equipment to use in their departments for development of digital inventories.

A situation once happened at the National Gallery of Zimbabwe whereby cultural objects including headrest and masks were stolen from an exhibition space and illicitly exported to Poland. The existence of proper documentation and security made the location of these objects possible. Despite of the barriers, a security consultancy in Netherlands assisted in the recovery of the objects. The security consultancy managed to conduct a workshop in Zimbabwe to recommend and teach cultural institutions protective security measures for our cultural treasures.

It is in this context that the three statutory heritage institutions have been stimulated to become one in order to combat the illicit trafficking of cultural property. This project will reinforce institutional capacity of the heritage bodies, and with their strategies implemented, they will be able to fight cultural crime

The result will raise awareness and pave way for Zimbabweans to protect their cultural heritage. A one-day workshop focused on the fight against the illicit trafficking of cultural property in Zimbabwe will be held at the National Gallery of Zimbabwe August 31, [2015].