Situated in Mbare is Zimbabwe’s largest curio market where you find traditional artifacts such as mortars and pestles, mbira instruments,beads among other traditional artworks.
A mere glimpse at the building that houses the curio market which is near the bus terminus reveals aspects of the country’s culture which is a vital cog in the tourism sector.
The Zimbabwe Sentinel had a chance to ask the curio hawkers and some of the producers of the traditional artifacts on how the business is faring.
As Gogo Annamore Chivizhe(72)narrates, she points to a waning business when compared to the recent past.
“When I was still young this place was indeed a tourist attraction. Many foreigners would frequent the place to buy traditional artifacts but all that changed at the turn of the millennium owing to the sour relationship between the country and the West,” recalls Gogo Chivizhe.
She said she is into pottery a talent she learnt from her mother while in her rural area in Wedza which is about 127 kilometres south ofHarare.
“It was some years ago after learning to make clay pots and hawkers used to frequent our area to buy our clay pots for selling at thismarket. I then decided to come to Harare and establish my own stall where I now sell my products,” said the affable Chivizhe as she pointed to her neatly displayed clay pots.
For Gogo Chivizhe business was brisk and she was able to build her own house in the sprawling suburb of Epworth.
All her four children were able to attend schools up to ordinary levels through the income she was getting from the sale of these wares.
In 2012, the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority launched ‘Township Tourism’ amid pomp and fanfare an event which was officially opened by vice president Joyce Mujuru.
One young curio hawker who identified himself as Gerald says that the event was a mere grandstanding that has not yielded anything yet.
“From my own understanding this place falls under the township tourism they launched last year.
“But the hullabaloo has not translated into tangible things yet, still very few tourists are visiting the place,” argued Gerald.
Gerald even confirmed to this reporter he was among those people who were bailed out by the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority last year just after UNWTO General Assembly in Victoria Fall after they had incurred huge losses when they had anticipated a business boon of their arts
A basket weaver from Chitungwiza said the low inflow of foreign tourists has rendered her business unviable as she have to incur huge costs of transporting the baskets to the curio market.
“Most hawkers no longer come to buy our baskets their as it will make their business less profitable. We have now resorted to exhibition where we expose ourselves to international markets, ”said Stembile Ncube.
This reporter spoke at length with Stephen Chifunyise, a cultural guru who acknowledged that arrival of foreign tourists who buy art products have plummeted over the years.
“Tourists used to be the main buyers of art products and the number seen been reduced and that have led to the prices of artworks to fall.
“Moreso ,a number of agencies used to visit Zimbabwe and they would buy artwork from artists then sell them overseas but now they are now few, ”said Chifunyise.
“The few that have left are most from South Africa who buy the products here cheap and then sell them abroad ,”he added.
He said there is the need to start afresh on new marketing gimmick to sustain the arts sector again.