The arts are not always in a prominent place on the political agenda in Africa, Latin-America and Asia. Nevertheless, an increasing number of governments recognise the importance of culture in itself and in connection to social and economic development. Part four in a series on cultural policy in non-Western countries.
Mozambique has a rich and goal-oriented cultural policy, which focuses both on the arts and the 'traditional' culture: the government is trying to integrate and use the knowledge of native healers and rulers in(to) the 'modern' society.
During the struggle for freedom in the 1960s, Mozambicans wanted to throw off the Portuguese colonial yoke in the field of the arts too. This was reflected in a search for the country’s ‘true’ identity. A theatrical author right from day one was Lindo Nhlongo, who in 1971 wrote the first play to have an African theme. Freedom fighters started to write about their daily life in the bush, including their parades and their ambushes; this guerrilla poetry eventually became an entire genre.
In June 1997, after the right to culture had already been enshrined in the constitution, the Ministry of Culture formulated its own policy, which uses a remarkably broad definition of the term ‘culture’ that also includes the way of life of a people or community, in all its facets. The policy’s priorities include not only the encouraging of artistic creation and the protection of intellectual property rights but also the preservation of the cultural heritage. This latter concept encompasses not only monuments, museums, archives and languages but also traditional healers and authorities. The government promotes the integration and use of native knowledge in(to) the government services and regular healthcare.
Important breeding grounds for the arts are the collective Núcleo de Arte, famous for its sculptures of recycled weapons, and the Centro Cultural Franco-Moçambicano in Maputo. In 2003, the Portuguese newspaper Público claimed that Companhia de Teatro Gungu, a collective of five theatre groups, was creating the best plays anywhere in the Portuguese-speaking world.
The most prominent Mozambican writer is Mia Couto, who in 2003 wrote an open letter to the American President Bush that was published in the newspaper Savanne, in which he argued that small countries such as Mozambique can deploy ‘weapons of mass construction’, that is to say they have the power of independent thought. Thanks to the Internet, Couto’s protest letter was distributed and read all around the world.