This year saw the launch of Comexposed, a comic book and digital arts convention founded by Eugene Ramirez Mapondera and Tino Makoni.
Writer: Rumbi Katedza
Obviously they are up against major competition from bigger, established international animation studios, but as Mtezo says, their stories provide a unique selling point. “Africa has a very prolific past, which the world, and even Africans themselves, are oblivious to. I feel as Africans the time has come for us to start telling our stories, and in terms of subject matter, we are truly spoilt for choice.”
The passion and enthusiasm that exists in Zimbabwean animation circles is undeniable. This year saw the launch of Comexposed, a comic book and digital arts convention founded by Eugene Ramirez Mapondera and Tino Makoni. Its exhibition and seminars attracted an audience of 300 people. Mapondera also edited ComicUp, a comic-book anthology featuring seven Zimbabwean artists. His own work, Umzingeli, about a female bounty hunter from Bulawayo, was included. It’s an action adventure that Mapondera is developing into both a game and an animated short to be distributed online in the near future.
Throughout the world, the animation industry’s growth has been multi-faceted, starting online and going interactive through gaming platforms, comics and merchandising. The same applies in Zimbabwe. With only one broadcaster in the country, the state-controlled Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation, animators have few options for terrestrial broadcast, so animators and independent filmmakers are under added pressure to use different distribution channels.
Online and digital distribution is becoming a large part of that. To access audiences in Africa that do not have immediate access to the Internet, they will have to go analogue with some of their work, but the Internet is their main target because it democratises the distribution process.
And with electricity challenges experienced by most Africans, Internet distribution allows content to be consumed at the viewer’s convenience. Short viral videos such as Tafadzwa Tarumbwa’s Salad Chick, about a sassy girl from the ghetto, are very popular in Zimbabwe, where social media like WhatsApp and Facebook are being used to share information and videos with a wider audience. According to news blog TechZim, in 2015 approximately 1.9-million of the country’s 11-million mobile-phone subscribers own smartphones, and manufacturer Huawei estimates 31% smartphone penetration in Africa. This is a growing market yet to be properly monetised by most animators.
Survival is tough with Zimbabwe’s current economic challenges. These animators mostly make a living in the advertising industry, using their free time to work on their films. Many of their projects are self-financed.
Enqore insists that animation, as part of the information economy, can become a sustainable industry. The challenge is to build an environment conducive to the creation of innovative content, one that can attract meaningful investment. The returns, Enqore says, can be considerable. “Animation requires significantly less input than, say, starting a farm or going into mining, which are the big industries in Zimbabwe. All you need is a decent laptop, software and a creative mind.”
To build his empire Enqore has launched Nafuna Campus, where he runs workshops for aspiring animators - a venture he knows will pay dividends later.
“We teach out of survival, because we have to have a pool of people to draw from. Without that pool, we won’t make anything. With more talent, we’ll make a better product.”
Nafuna is not the only institution dedicated to skills development and education. The Zimbabwe Institute of Vigital Arts was founded in 1999 by Professor Saki Mafundikwa after six years of study and 15 years’ professional experience in the US. The school is “committed to research and visual experimentation that taps into Africa’s own rich visual heritage”. Dozens of young Zimbabweans are receiving professional quali cations in design, new media and animation from the institution. Mafundikwa – author of Afrikan Alphabets: the Story of Writing in Africa and a design pioneer in his own right – believes investing in education is necessary to build Zimbabwe’s economy and counter the brain drain of the last decade.
“Despite all the challenges we face every day,” says animator Mtezo, “Zimbabweans still possess a truly amazing work ethic. It will serve us well as we build capacity for a labour-intensive industry like animation.”
Animation is a collaborative art. These young creative entrepreneurs are on a journey together to retell the African story one animated lm at a time - and in the process, they are cementing their own places in history.