I got an email this week inviting me to a recital by a pianist called Genaro Pereira. At the Zimbabwe Academy of Music in Bulawayo.
Given the battered, troubled state of the country, it seems almost unbelievable that such events still take place. The people who go will not be particularly wealthy; the $5 or $10 for a seat will be a major outlay. Yet, given the estimated 90 per cent unemployment rate, it is remarkable anyone can afford to consider a ticket at all. Even those with money in the bank find it almost impossible to withdraw cash due to the ongoing currency crisis. But somehow a couple of hundred people, maybe more, will find a way of getting into the concert, where an hour or so of Chopin and Beethoven may briefly push other thoughts from the forefront of the mind.
My last visit to a concert in Zimbabwe ended up with an unexpected period in a police cell, when I was accused of working without a permit. That’s another story. But I am still a proud trustee of a small British charity that raises money to support the work of the Academy of Music, an institution that has fought for its survival over the two decades since the Mugabe dream started to go wrong.
Some may feel that there are more important priorities than music in Zimbabwe right now. But at a micro-level there is surely something reassuring about the fact that a hundred or so (predominantly black) teenagers still have the option to study violin, piano or percussion. It would ridiculous, however, to try to claim that the academy serves all. It can only offer its teaching to a small elite of the Zimbabwean population. In that it reflects the wider education sector, where good schools are still available, but only if you have the money, or political connections, to arrange a place for your child. Elsewhere badly paid teachers (in reality often unpaid due to administrative stasis) struggle to provide some form of learning, addressing vast classes in crumbling buildings.
But even if it hangs by a thread, at least the education system still exists. It will play a central role in the rebuilding of the country, where parents talk eagerly of the desire to return to days of their own childhoods in the 1980s, when Zimbabwe had one of the best literacy rates in all Africa.
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