Saki Mafundikwa, a graphic designer and the founder and director of the Zimbabwe Institute of Vigital Arts (ZIVA), recently directed Shungu: The Resilience of a People, a film recording the incredible promise of this country as well as its terrible difficulties meeting the needs of Zimbabwe’s people. The film is both intensely sad, decidedly informative, and curiously beautiful in many ways. I spoke to Mafundikwa during his recent trip to New York.
Your film, Shungu, is a heartbreaking history of a once hopeful Zimbabwe in a way that many of us here in the U.S. can now understand. You’ve never made a film before. What prompted this one?
I guess I was pushed by a sense of outrage at the situation in my country. Zimbabwe held so much promise at independence (some 32 years ago)—promise of peace, prosperity, and progress. At independence in 1980, our currency, the Z$ was one to one with the greenback. But by 2008, runaway inflation had topped the million percent mark! The highest inflation rate ever recorded in history, and the largest note we printed was a 100 trillion dollar bill! We traded the enviable position of being Afrika’s bread basket for a basket case. I decided that I had to do something—a personal statement. I convinced myself that if I didn’t do something, I was going to go crazy. So I picked up my camera, jumped into my truck, and drove around the country getting the viewpoint of ordinary people on how they were dealing with the crisis.
How did you finance the film?
I shot the film entirely out of pocket. My wife and the producer of the film, Karen (who lived in New York and is the filmmaker), was busy applying for funding but we only got funding for post-production.
It is ironic that your message is in favor of democracy (and shows Mugabe as a man who fought and achieved it). But as you say, “Democracy means different things to different people.” What did you learn about this democracy in making Shungu that was a shock to you ?
Well, it’s all relative, I guess, but we are always in danger of being overtaken by events and history. In terms of democracy, I refer to ours as a “One-Party-State Democracy.” An oxymoron if ever there was one!
Zimbabwe is now in a kind of limbo. Mugabe was defeated for the Presidency, but he is still in power. The opposition is in government. How is the country faring?
To its credit, the Government of National Unity helped stop the violence, first and foremost, and it arrested the runaway inflation through the introduction of the U.S. dollar as official currency, thereby stabilizing the economy. Currently, however, ordinary people are not faring as well because there is an acute shortage of capital in the country, caused by a number of reasons, including lack of investment due to a lack of confidence in the government. We have discovered huge deposits of diamonds, but so far only the few in power are benefiting from their sale. (The U.S. and Europe have declared them “blood diamonds,” making it difficult for their sale on the open market.)
What do you hope will be the outcome of the film? Is it aimed at your countrymen and women or those of us in the West who have little or no knowledge?
The film will stand the test of time as a record of a period in our history that was meant to be swept under the carpet, buried forever from inquiring eyes. It is aimed at anyone anywhere who is interested in truth, human rights, and history.