By Stephen Ephraem
CHIPINGE: The advent of mobile phone services in the mid 1990s came as a huge leap forward as far as communication was concerned. Fixed telephone services had their own shortcomings then, especially on rural coverage.
Zimbabwe saw three mobile services providers being NetOne, Econet Wireless and Telecel battle for dominance.
It was Telecel which popularised the word ‘juice’ when referring to recharging airtime following its Mango brand. Up to this day recharging is referred as ‘juicing.’
Despite the handsets being huge and heavy, owning a cell phone in the mid 1990s and early 2000s was regarded as prestige. Some popular people could be tempted to appear on television screen showing their latest acquisitions.
One popular singer even went to the extent of showing off his cell phone handset on a video which promoted the artiste to be nicknamed “Cellular.” Many people admired those with fashion brands of the days which included handset that could flip and those that could fold.
Fast forward to 2021.
The three initial mobile service providers are still in business. A positive development is that most people have afforded to own a cell phone and a SIM card at reasonable prices opposite to what once happened around 2008 when people could exchange a cow for an Econet Wireless SIM card.
The mobile phone has changed the digital era. Education depends on e-learning. Business depends on e-commerce. Finance depends on e-banking. The list is endless.
Regardless of this development, cultural tourism in Chipinge and Chimanimani is suffering due to poor mobile network.
There are mobile network cries in areas such as Mabee, Makoho, Mahenye, Ngaone, Rimbi, and Chikore in Chipinge as well as Dzingire (Kopa), Kurwaisimba, Machongwe and Mutsvangwa in Chimanimani.
According to the Chairman and director of Ndau Festival of the Arts (NDAFA) Mr Phillip Kusasa whose organisations owns Paiyapo Heritage and Arts Development Centre at Bangira, Chikore in Chipinge East, Chipinge’s cultural industry is based in the rural areas.
“Our industry is based in the rural areas. If we talk of cultural music, dances, attire designs, ancient heritage sites and landscapes, they are mostly found in rural areas, but the drawback is that most of our areas are facing network challenges.
“We can’t operate without communicating with the outside world. Say a tourist wants to consume Mutshongoyo dance, we have to invite groups like Sikanda, Muzite and Holland to showcase but check their areas have poor to no network,” said Kusasa.
Liberty Chauke of Mahenye where cultural MaChangana Gala takes place lamented on poor network.
“Mahenye is well known worldwide for its successful Communal Areas Management Programme for Indigenous Resources (CAMPFIRE) and our MaChangana Gala revolves around tourists who visit Mahenye.
“Mobile network is in a sorry state here at Mahenye. One has to walk to areas where the network can be accessed and this is very costly suppose tourist queries or urgent conservation documents aren’t responded in real time,” said Chauke.
Irene Mlambo who is the treasurer for a Chipinge based tourism digital promotion project named http://africasoutheasttourism.org (Africa South East Tourism) indicated that poor network takes a toll on cultural tourism.
“Our project promotes Chipinge and Chimanimani on digital platforms such as epapers, videos and online. It is sad that whenever we publish new content, the cultural industry stakeholders themselves are the last to get the information since they struggle to get mobile network in their respective rural area.
“It is not a healthy situation for the industry because digitalisation means getting information in real time. We hope that the situation shall improve and see cultural tourism booming in our region,” said Mlambo.
In Chimanimani, Slim Kay a music icon who works closely with Chimanimani Arts Festival wishes for mobile network to improve.
“We are in Chimanimani urban but most of our exhibitors come from rural areas where there are some network challenges. It’s difficult to communicate with fellow artistes whenever there are some positive developments in the industry,” he said.
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