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.
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.
Shungu’ puts human face on ballot box Helmer’s docu on Zimbabwe election put camera on the voters When Saki Mafundikwa began traveling around Zimbabwe in 2008, documenting the buildup to his country’s presidential election, he had no idea what he was getting into. But the first-time helmer felt compelled to capture the campaign season on film, focusing on President Robert Mugabe and opposition candidate Morgan Tsvangirai. As the camera rolled, Mafundikwa was gripped by the human stories he encountered: a poverty-stricken opposition supporter trying to survive in the face of political violence; a doctor struggling to cope with the country’s collapsing healthcare system; a middle-aged widow who was given a farm by the government during its controversial land seizures from white farmers. Those ordinary people became the focus of “Shungu” (from Gandanga Media), which puts a human face to the headline news of Zimbabwe’s descent into chaos. Since its preem at Amsterdam’s Intl. Documentary Film Festival last year, “Shungu” – the Shona word for “resilience” – has been a hit on the festival circuit, as well as winning the top documentary prize at the Kenya Intl. Film Festival last month. Success has come as something of a surprise to Mafundikwa, an accomplished graphic designer, who didn’t expect to become a filmmaker when he returned to Zimbabwe in 1998, after two decades living in the U.S. A year after returning to Harare, he founded the Zimbabwe Institute for Vigital Arts (ZIVA), a media arts school with the goal, he says, of “training students in the visual arts using digital tools.” (The word “ziva” also means “knowledge” in his native Shona.) Buoyed by the academy’s success, as well as his own laurels as a first-time filmmaker, Mafundikwa is now planning to offer a degree in documentary filmmaking at ZIVA. Filmmaking, he says, has also proved therapeutic. “At that time, if I hadn’t made ‘Shungu,’ I would’ve gone crazy,” says Mafundikwa, recalling the turmoil of the 2008 elections. “By my silence, it would’ve looked like I supported what was going on.” He lensed the doc with support from IDFA’s Jan Vrijman Fund and Trust Africa, although much of the coin came from his own pocket. Though he’s working on his second doc, “Basilwizi,” a story about the indigenous Tonga people of northern Zimbabwe, the emotive power of “Shungu” stays with him. Mafundikwa recalls the story of Pamela, a young woman whose death from AIDS-related illnesses is the emotional climax of the film. When doctors told her family that they should have brought Pamela to the clinic sooner, they said they were too poor to pay for the treatments that could have saved her life. The cost, says Mafundikwa, was just $50. “This country is depressing,” he says. “But the reason I still live here is to share these stories.” Christopher Vourlias, Variety, December 7 – 8, 2010
TimeOut London Magazine
“Those eager for the news from catastrophe-ridden Zimbabwe frustrated by being limited to journalists reports from the South African border or the odd undercover radio report will welcome Mafundikwa’s saddening documentary. The titular word has a range of meanings – from innovation and determination to frustration and longing – all expressed in the testimonies and faces of the half dozen main interviewees in Mafundikwa’s non-strident report, filmed from February 2008 to June 2009, just after MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai accepted his coalition role alongside Robert Mugabe. Mafundikwa’s analysis is a little cursory – and, understandably, reasonably diplomatic – but the images and stories are telling.” Wally Hammond, Time Out London, October 18, 2010
A tribute to Zimbabwean resilience
Shungu is what Zimbabweans have in plenty, and Shungu is what has helped most of them survive the later years of Robert Mugabe’s rule. It means “resilience”, and graphic designer Saki Mafundikwa’s documentary, Shungu: The Resilience of a People, is his sad account of a few of those survivors – and in one case, fatal victim. “In order to survive one must have shungu and that enables you to survive against unbearable odds,” he says in his quiet commentary. He acknowledges the successes of the first decade of independence, once Mugabe and his fellow-fighters had overthrown Ian Smith’s white supremacist rule. In that first decade “great progress” was made – but not on the issue of land, a key issue, just as it was when it was grabbed and used to underpin the colonial enterprise in what used to be called Southern Rhodesia. Then things started to go wrong. Mafundikwa – founder of the country’s first design and new media college, focuses on a metalworker, a female farmer, an anaesthetist, a widow and a young woman suffering from AIDS complications. He watches these stories unfold “with a heavy heart” and finds “people living in unimaginable misery.” He also gives us a potted history of postmajority rule Zimbabwe. … As a view of Zimbabwe, it shows us lives we would not ordinarily see, and, along the way, some telling details – such as the doctor unable to wash his hands after examining a hideous case of Karposi’s sarcoma, because nothing comes out of the tap in his surgery. In the end, the very unflashy quietness of tone adds to the starkness of its message. This is a sincere chronicle of a country undergoing profound change, in the wrong direction.
Daniel Nelson, OneWorld UK, October 2010