Raymond Jaravaza, Showbiz Correspondent
TO many a passer-by, three derelict mud and mortar huts built on a large piece of land in Luveve suburb can be described as an eyesore as they are in sharp contrast to the well-kept suburban houses, just a stone’s throw away across the road.
One would be forgiven to assume the place is a temporary habitat to perhaps a few “squatters” with little or no respect to city council bylaws that outlaw the erection of illegal structures in Bulawayo.
But for anyone who has ever used the main road that leads into a section of Luveve suburb just after Luveve Police Station, there is definitely nothing temporary about the three huts and its occupants.
The structures are now an almost permanent feature in that part of Luveve suburb.
Some people even wonder if the city fathers are turning a blind eye on the existence of the structures, which stick out like a sore thumb in an otherwise immaculate neighbourhood surrounded by beautiful homes with well-manicured ever-green lawns.
With the recent rains that have been pounding Bulawayo, lush trees and tall grass now dwarf the mud and mortar huts.
When the Saturday Leisure news crew visited recently, we were welcomed at the gate by a gentleman who introduced himself as Bekezela Dube. He promptly asked us to sit under a tree while he vanished into one of the huts.
Judging by the smoke billowing out of one of the huts, it was easier to conclude that it was a kitchen. Our suspicions were confirmed when another gentleman walked into the kitchen with a pile of firewood. A few seconds later, crackling sounds from burning wood could be heard.
“Some residents say you are squatters and that your place is bringing down the property value of their homes. What do you say to such assertions about your place, which we understand is supposed to be some kind of cultural centre?” we asked Dube.
Surprisingly he did not seem offended by insinuations that he is a squatter.
“Such things can only be said by ignorant people who are quick to jump to conclusions without first trying to find out who we are and why we are here.”
“For starters, how can we be squatters when we have a long-term lease with the Bulawayo City Council, who are owners of this land? We are an organisation known as Isibi SaboMthwakazi which is run by a trust and what you see here is a cultural village meant to preserve and teach people about our heritage,” explained Dube.
According to Dube, the cultural centre has been in existence since 1996 but he and his associates took over the running of the place in 2003.
The three mud and mortar huts sit on a four-hectare piece of land.
But if the cultural centre has been around for close to 25 years, why does it have just three huts and a perimeter fence that is in dire need of repairs?
For anyone who has ever been to the Amagugu International Heritage Centre, situated within the Matobo Hills cultural landscape, the Luveve Cultural Village doesn’t exactly spell a heritage learning institution.
“These structures you see here are temporary. We have a vision to build a cultural hub that will attract both local and international tourists as well as school kids who will use the village as a cultural and heritage resource centre.
“But our biggest challenge is that we are not united as a people to see this project grow. There is a lot of pull him down syndrome among the people that are involved in the cultural and heritage community. I’m not surprised that some people would rather see this place collapse instead of assisting us to grow it into a bigger and better cultural centre,” Dube said.
How does Dube and his associates eke out a living seeing that the cultural village has no meaningful income coming into its purse?
“We sell thatching grass which we harvest right here on the four hectares of land that this cultural centre is built on.
We try to keep this place as natural as possible by not cutting down trees recklessly or burning the grass.
“If you had come here two days ago, you would have seen a truck that was collecting thatching grass that we harvested,” he said.
Next to one of the huts, we observed a pile of empty beer and soda cans, which Dube said he picks up from nearby shops in the neighbourhood for resale at recycling plants.
As the Saturday Leisure crew was preparing to leave, two primary school children headed into the kitchen and Dube explained that they were his kids. They live with him at the cultural village.
Judging by the state of the Luveve Cultural Centre, Dube and his associates need constant fresh ideas and innovative ways of doing things to turn the place into a heritage resource centre from the deplorable state it is currently in.
The starting point would be to leverage information communication technologies (ICT) in the promotion of cultural heritage to reach wide-ranging audiences that include young people who are usually elusive when it comes to culture and heritage matters.
By contrast, Amagugu International Heritage Centre is an epitome of cultural and heritage preservation and each year, tourists and researchers throng the centre from all corners of the world to enjoy, learn and get inspiration.
The name Amagugu refers to the collection of tangibles and intangibles held precious or valuable to a community or individual. The first of its kind in Zimbabwe, the centre was established in 2010 as a brainchild of the world acclaimed history and culture demagogue Pathisa Nyathi.
Matobo Hills Cultural Landscape is a Unesco World Heritage Site in recognition of that combined heritage and Amagugu International Heritage Centre (AIHC) affords the local community to be part of the matrix. – @RaymondJaravaza