Rampant Illicit Cultural property trafficking… security details move in

Zimbabwe has become a breeding territory for smuggled cultural heritage artifacts, amid reports that security details including Interpol, the Army (ZNA), Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP), Aiforce (AFZ) and Prison Services (ZPS) among other institutions have vowed to use gunfire to curb the irregularities.

By Edward Makuzva

Smuggling of these artifacts has been largely irked by lack of procedural ethics on export and import regulations, contempt that has witnessed an upsurge in Heritage and Cultural Property crimes.

The rampant illicit trafficking of cultural property has also been precipitated considering Zimbabwe is not capacitated to curb illicit trafficking.

These findings that were laid bare during the two day workshop held at the National Museums and Monuments Headquarters in Harare witnessed key members from the Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA) pledging their support.

ZNA Principal Legal Officer, Major Beck Christopher Maposa said: “We are offering our full support and protection by any means necessary. Even in case of war or armed conflict. Our museums and monuments should feel safe because as ZNA we are mandated to protect our heritage. Mind you, heritage boosts our tourism”, the man of law concluded.

Some of the worryingly stolen artifacts range from the archeological to archival and contemporary art including the topical decapitated heads of the heroes of the first Chimurenga.

The Zimbabwe Birds and Ethnographic objects comprising headrests, individual ritual objects, walking sticks and clubs make up the list of stolen property.

Loss of this cultural heritage has according to the director of National museums and monuments Ghodhi Bvocho been ongoing since colonial rule.

The trafficking witnessed corrupt curators smuggling some of the artifacts to outside markets in return for financial gains.

“The loss of this fundamental cultural material has been going since the colonial rule. Therefore, we have roped in law enforcement agencies to deal with these issues seriously,” Bvocho said.

Bvocho added the national body had tried in vain to deal with the issues in 2008 due to the lack of resources.

However, following the binding agreement to join efforts with national arms responsible for security, action is being effected with help from UNESCO.

UNESCO is mandated to preserve the historical artifacts and intangible cultural heritage of Zimbabwe.

Bvocho further admitted that the Artifacts smuggled from Zimbabwe were being auctioned off in South Africa and Europe where there is a high market.

“Some of the items where found already auctioned in South Africa, because our borders don’t have the regulations and capacity to deal with these matters.

And the pace at which illicit trafficking of monuments is occurring only plays second fiddle to drug trafficking”, he said.

Chief curator of National museums and monument, Kundishora Chipunza alluded to this and said: “Our borders do not have regulations and have become a ground for illegal activities. Heritage properties are irreplaceable and priceless.

Therefore, heritage crimes have to be taken into criminal law and those found wanting should be punished”, he said.

Interpol, which has 190 member countries, pledged support as far as bringing the offenders to book.

Interpol Regional special Officer and Environmental Crime Desk, Rudolph Mbumba said: As Interpol, we are ready to help fight against Heritage crimes. We are facilitating international police cooperation in the spirit of the Universal Declaration of human rights. Our database consists of 46 100 artworks from 131 countries that we ne need to protect and we have access to the tools needed for the police to do their jobs,” said Mbumba.

The international illicit trafficking of cultural property market has taken advantage of the vulnerability of African Cultural properties.

To date this market boasts of over US $6 billion per year and according to UNESCO statistics, the black market of cultural property constitutes one of the most persistent illegal trades in the world with an increase of 50% in the last two decades driven by open offers on the internet.

Meanwhile, a manual that will help all stakeholders involved implement the action plan is currently being drafted and finalized.

Stakeholders involved in spearheading the action plan involve Interpol (national and regional), Immigration, shipping and forwarding companies, national museums and monuments of Zimbabwe, national archives of Zimbabwe, National gallery of Zimbabwe, Reserve bank of Zimbabwe, ZIMPOST, Zimbabwe National Army, Air Force Of Zimbabwe, University of Zimbabwe, State Universities, private museums and galleries amongst others.