The government of Sweden through its embassy in Zimbabwe has pledged to donate $1.35m via the Culture Fund.

The Culture Fund is a local NGO that promotes the development of the arts. Its mandate is also to reduce gender violence, combat child marriage and promote environmental awareness.

The Scandinavian nation entered into agreement with the Culture Fund in Harare last week. The Swedish ambassador to Zimbabwe, Sofia Calltorp, said culture was essential in the development and transformation of ordinary people.

“Culture can be a very powerful tool to promote development,” she said during the signing ceremony. “Through art and different cultural expressions, we can reach out to communities, enhance awareness, stimulate debate and highlight the need for action to combat gender-based violence, but also to start a discussion around environmental issues and climate change.”

Also present during the signing was the head of Swedish development cooperation in Zimbabwe, Maria Selin, who said her country’s partnership with the Culture Fund had yielded positive results in the past.

“In our environment right now less money is coming through and few donors are available,” Selin said. An investment in the culture sector is not on the top of the priority list for investors but for our part we have been partnering with Culture Fund for more than 10 years, investing about $1m a year and we have seen tremendous things happening here which we are really proud of.”

Culture Fund executive director Farai Mpfunya said the Swedish aid was of paramount importance to the arts industry. “This new programme marks a new era of partnership between the Culture Fund and the embassy of Sweden under a renewed model that seeks to achieve greater impact by working with selected creatives and community organisations to infuse practical innovations into more sustainable development interventions,” he said.

The donation is spread over three years and is meant for three Zimbabwean districts – Mazowe, Makoni and Chipinge.

Zimbabwe Business and Arts Hub (ZIBAH) chairperson Takemore Mazuruse said the arts and culture industry was important for the country’s development.

“Arts and culture has a lot of bearing on how society behaves, hence it should not be a fringe player but actively involved in shaping the national trajectory, especially where developmental issues are concerned,” he said.

“We embrace this positive development by the Swedish embassy for their thoughtfulness in availing funding that will go a long way in dealing with such ills as gender violence and child marriages, while promoting environmental awareness.”

Musician Tariro neGitare, who doubles up as a creative director at Magitare Africa Trust, said: “Such funding partnerships will allow for the right kind of interventions and I hope that it yields the desired results and makes a tangible difference in the lives of women and girls in Zimbabwe.”

Zimbabwe Musicians Union (ZIMU) interim president Edith WeUtonga, who is also a musician, said: “Having been involved in the Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) campaign against sexual gender-based violence, as an individual, leading some of my fellow musicians in that campaign, the funding will go a long way to curb these activities with unity from my fellow women and men in the music fraternity,” she said.

Zimbabwe’s government is widely condemned for having neglecting the arts and culture industry since the early 1990s. Last year, Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa presented a $4bn budget whose highlights did not include the arts and culture industry, thus effectively leaving the sector at the mercy of NGOs and foreign aid.

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