Digital storytelling holds unlimited possibilities in the development of media literacy and cultural competency. When harnessed with the pithy authenticity of one’s inherent identity, it is an indispensable tool that safeguards diverse creative and cultural expression as it engages the society in critical thinking, development of cultural competency, and finding their voice in a local and global environment.
Essentially, it allows creators to connect to cultural and diverse stories while disseminating information globally and expanding cultural reach, thereby influencing and giving voice to the oppressed. Digital stories offer a new opportunity for impacting how people relate.
The role that media and technology are playing in shaping contemporary approaches to diverse creative and cultural expression in Zimbabwe took a centre stage at a plenum held in Harare Tuesday the 2nd of June in celebration of the National Culture Week Commemorations that President Emmerson Mnangagwa officially launched at Chief Njelele’s homestead in Gokwe South two weeks ago.
The plenary, themed “Digital Storytelling and Its Role in Safeguarding Diverse Creative and Cultural Expression in Zimbabwe”, was convened by the Ministry of Youth, Sport, Arts & Recreation, Harare Province in conjunction with Enthuse Afrika: The Digital Storytellers at their recently launched co-working, co-learning and co-creating hub for digital creatives, Afrotopia.
Enthuse Afrika Managing Creative Stephanie Kapfunde facilitated the discussion while Livingstone Muchefa (Curator for Education at the National Gallery of Zimbabwe representing MOYSAH Harare), Farai Mupfunya (Culture Fund Director), Marie Laure Charlise Emma Soukaina Edom (AfriKera Arts Trust Director) and Farai Ncube (Partnerships and Programme Manager Southern Africa Arts Cluster at British Council) were on the panel.
There was a fervent debate about the authenticity of the content being made by local digital storytellers, largely on whether it reflects a true Zimbabwean identity and culture. As well, some voices questioned if it was cultural for everyone who has a device to be a storyteller and whether we should tell every story as it is and what not to tell. Ultimately, the digital storytellers were urged to encompass African/Zimbabwean cultural elements in their creative processes to avert cultural erosion, which new technology stand accused of compounding.
In their defence, the new media creators said it was difficult for them to create “locally-relatable” content because most of them grew up on Western influences. They added that it was equally onerous to create “art for art” stories because there is a general lack of funding. Questions were raised on whether the government is playing a role in facilitating resource distribution.
In the same vein, the digital storytellers also stressed concern over the understandability, relatability and accessibility of government policies relevant to the Creative and Cultural Industries (CCIs).
On opportunities, Farai Ncube of the British Council – a United Kingdom’s international organisation for educational opportunities and cultural relations – said there were many opportunities available for new media creators for training and funding in the region and beyond.