Value, credibility of awards become suspect


WHEN does one start to write without much complaining about one thing or the other? I presume it’s when you stop writing about the arts and entertainment in Zimbabwe.

I try my best to address as many positive issues in the arts, but I suppose good things are good anyway. We need to address the shortcomings and a platform like this one is crucial to that effect. I will leave the show previews and raving reviews to our journalists who already do that very well.

Last week I highlighted that the International Institute of Philanthropy conferred Zimbabwe’s music super star Oliver Mtukudzi with a third honorary degree, an honorary doctorate in human letters.

It therefore, follows that he now is addressed as doctor. I have no qualms as many people are certainly content with the legend being honoured, but everything else besides him as a person and great musician, raised a lot of dust over this decision to honour him and other prominent citizens with a doctorate.

Right after the story splashed on Internet and pictures posted on social sites they sparked a lot of debate, one that we cannot ignore. Some people have questioned the authenticity of the organisation that conferred the degrees asking whether they even have a mandate to do so.

Sucked into the storm is an argument on whether in the arts Mtukudzi is the only one who up to date deserves an honour of that nature.

At the risk of sounding biased, names like Black Umfolosi, Cont Mhlanga, Simon Chimbetu, the late Paul Matavire, Mackey Tickays and John Chibadura, among others, have been raised as contenders surely deserving such honours too, even posthumously. This is not to say Tuku did not deserve to be conferred with a doctorate.

I fully agree. Is our country that big that when people decide to accord honours of that nature they can only give those they know and those whose names are known more than the rest?

Black Umfolosi sang the song Unity, a song that brought warring regions together and became the national anthem of solidarity. I am yet to see them honoured in a manner that befits their cause. Cont Mhlanga’s name became synonymous with Zimbabwean theatre and Amakhosi Cultural Centre became pivotal to arts growth in Zimbabwe too.

Whatever reservations, what honour has been given to Mhlanga that resembles his contribution? Pathisa Nyathi is an icon of historical research and rated among the best in our country, but save for academics and those interested (in his area of work) he goes unnoticed.

I always battle to write such facts because at the expense of showing an anomaly I risk being labelled regional or tribalist. We need to put that behind us as a point of argument and face reality.

Turning a deliberate blind eye to some and continuing to recognise the same people (who I must say deserve it) at the expense of others who rightfully deserve to have forced some people to start resenting those institutions and unfortunately some of the people honoured.

They are resented not because they do not deserve the awards or honours, but because they are caught in the middle of their good work and selective, exclusive recognition that ignores those that could be celebrated alongside them.

That is why we start to have people calling for city awards, regional awards, and genré awards in a bid to honour their own because they feel they are deliberately closed out of the bigger picture. As a result we will then become an awards, degrees and honours country from various corners and in some cases unknown and unrecognised institutions.

We are flooding the entertainment scene with awards and honours of this, that and the other. In the end they will be meaningless.

The more everyone is being awarded by somebody or nobody the more the value of degrees and awards will wane. Did you notice what happened when the “ambassador” of this or that institution was introduced?

Now almost every artist or musician is ambassador of some organisation. One blogger feels that there is something slightly dodgy and discomforting about the culture of awards in our community and our obsession with academic-related titles. Excessive love, it must be added.

In recent years we have seen a number of public personalities earning doctorates – some of dubious origin and pedigree and immediately insisting that they must be addressed as such. The arts community is not spared. Basically everybody is now an “award-winning” personality, artiste or group.

The point is that we need an organised, authentic system of honouring our artistes and those that have contributed highly to the industry and entertainment in general.

This will help maintain value and credibility of the respect and honour we wish to confer on them. Keep walking!