Does Zimbabwe have a National dress? I visited my daughter’s school in May when they celebrated their belated Africa Day. They were encouraged to wear something African on that particular day. The moment I arrived at the parking bay I noted as Zimbabweans we have an identity crisis. The little boys and girls were dressed in different African attires mostly predicting the western and eastern Africa type of dressing. One would have mistaken the school at that particular time for a Nigerian school.
I attended another function where the dress code was strictly “African attire”. As I walked into the venue it was easy to identify Ghanaians, Nigerians, Kenyans and to some extent our own neighbors from South Africa, Botswana and Zambia through their defined traditional dressing which distinguishes them from other African nationalities. Zimbabweans could be mistaken for any of the nationalities mentioned above, because most of us especially women, buy material imported from either Zambia or Tanzania and then go to a dressmaker with a design from the internet or from a Nigerian movie and have a dress made The moment one is to attend a function which says African attire then the dilemma of a Zimbabwean begins. One is forced to feel comfortable in putting on something depicting West or East Africa because Zimbabwe does not have a national dress. If one is not in that fabric from the other part of Africa then one has no choice but to just clad that 2 piece English suit which he or she bought from an upmarket boutique or which was sent by a relative from the diaspora.
Imported western African material from Zambia, Tanzania and even Nigeria are finding their way into the country through our porous borders, because it is now brisk business in Zimbabwe. Most Zimbabweans now have dresses and shirts in their closets made from these materials. Just imagine if Zimbabwe had a vibrant economy, where the textile industry would be up and running like what David Whitehead used to do. What would that mean in terms of booming business for the country by producing our own cloth which identifies us as Zimbabweans and also exporting to other countries where most Zimbabweans are now residing for them to be identified with their motherland.
Is the Government doing enough in terms of Zimbabweans being identified in terms of traditional dressing among other African countries? Is the Ministry responsible for culture failing to come up with initiatives to have the traditional dress in place or it depends with the office bearer who is at the helm of the Ministry at that particular time? When Aeneas Chigwedere was the then Minister of Education, Sports, Arts and Culture around 2005, he launched a national dress for Zimbabwe which, unfortunately, did not yield meaningful results. I do not remember coming across a local shop selling material for the National dress. This clearly shows there is lack of political will from those in higher offices for Zimbabweans to be identified through traditional dress.
I have always observed the amount of effort put in by leaders of political parties in trying to be creative in coming up with cloth for regalia with party emblems, colours and pictures of their top officials. I believe one of the political parties import their material from friends from the East. If our leaders had the Nation at heart the same amount of effort could have been put in place and a national dress could have been achieved a long time ago, but surprisingly 37 years after independence, Zimbabweans cannot be identified among other Africans in terms of traditional dress.
Identity crisis is real for Zimbabweans.