Chido Musasiwa-Gutu, Founder of LET THEM Trust, Is Emboldening Youth Talent in Zimbabwe
“Something I always tell young people is that success is through the endeavour and no matter how many times you are turned down, try another door till something manifests” — Chido Musasiwa-Gutu.
Society often tells us it’s normal to just be one thing but Chido Musasiwa-Gutu is continuously proving this claim wrong. Born in Zimbabwe at Harare Hospital in 1974, Musasiwa-Gutu lived in Australia from 1985 to 1991 while her father pursued a master's in theology and her mother an undergraduate degree in special education. After spending most of her formative years abroad, Musasiwa-Gutu returned to Zimbabwe with a deep desire to play a role in her home country’s arts sector.
In 2010, she became CEO of her own company Chido Advertising and the Director of the arts organisation LET THEM Trust. In 2020, she was elected to the board of Music Managers Forum of Zimbabwe and became Chair of Afrikera Arts Trust. Later that same year, she received a Nobel Award at the Nasfest International Youth Arts Festival in Lilongwe, Malawi, for her exceptional contribution to Africa’s arts and culture industry. Not to be confused with the Nobel Prize, the Nobel Award is an honour that recognises those that are changing the status of beneficiaries from dependency to economic self-reliance.
With her rich resume, Musasiwa-Gutu is a force to be reckoned with. Next on her hit list is building the LET THEM Trust Village. Located 25km from Harare in the beautiful Domboshava hills, the village is set to be laid out in clusters of huts designed in a hybrid of contemporary and traditional styles. The Let Them Village will provide accommodation and camping facilities specifically tailored for school, educational, youth arts and cultural heritage tours, workshops, retreats and camps.
On her next project, Musasiwa-Gutu shares with Document Women, “I came back to Zim more conscious of the need for us to embrace our cultural heritage and embrace not only our language but everything associated with the arts. I was reminded of my love for ngano (traditional stories and folklore) and trips to Kumusha where our entertainment was ngano song, dance, and games like nodo, pada, etc. I then felt the need to start encouraging our children to go back to the basics and not focus on gadgets and video games.”
Documentation of Zimbabwe’s art history dates back as early as the Stone Age, with pottery, sculptures, rock paintings and engravings working as creative mediums for people of that time. Oral stories preserve these historic illustrations; their narrators were termed griots and acted as human libraries, using art as a form of preservation from generation to generation for everything from medical knowledge to daily customs. Griot presence was continent-wide in pre-colonial Africa, though European occupations killed off many. Fortunately, these cultural guardians can still be found in pockets of Africa, like in Senegal.
Musasiwa-Gutu hopes to reinvigorate this tradition in Zimbabwe through the LTT Village, which is set to host 200 students and tourists from around the world. The arts village initiative is an extension of LET THEM Trust (LTT), a creative education trust teaching children art skills and the business acumen required to capitalise on their work. Established in 2010, LTT not only upholds and promotes cultural heritage (hosting an annual arts festival since 2012), it seeks to develop local communities through capacity building and advocacy initiatives.
Utilising the vast land where the village is being built, the trust also partners with local women, providing them with opportunities to lead hikes, cultural tours, events and initiatives. It has also pioneered the busy bee project, whereby 20 women from Gutsa village were trained in beekeeping and making honey products. As a trust, they find and facilitate sustainable markets for the products to create long-term income streams for the women in these communities. They have also partnered with Agora Zimbabwe Club to donate sanitary pads and train young girls in sexual reproductive health.
On these initiatives, Musasiwa-Gutu shares, “Our vision is to include people in the community to be a part of the village. Most of the women in Domboshawa do not work, so we also want to empower them as much as possible.”
As a young woman who started with nothing more than a solid vision, she continuously aims to pay it forward. Her background was initially in travel, having achieved a Leslie Cripps Safari Higher Diploma Lata in 1997. She then transitioned into advertising, obtaining a bachelor's degree in Business Administration and Marketing from the Institute of Marketing Management.
In 2003, while working for a roadshow company, she found herself being headhunted for a job in Botswana shortly after her graduation. She spent the next two years enjoying the beauty the country had to offer, attending numerous events and shows, such as the Kuru Dance Festival and Sedibelo Festival of the Bakgatla. This experience was the catalyst for the cultural archivist’s creative venture, registering and launching Chido Advertising as well as seeing the beginnings of what would become Let Them Trust.
One of Let Them Trust’s early initiatives was the preservation and promotion of ngano to schools in the form of a theatre production, where students would gain the opportunity to perform poetry, music, or dance. Following the success of this scheme, their first one-day performing arts festival was launched, which engaged 12 schools.
Musasiwa-Gutu tells Document Women more about the Let Them Festival since its debut: “In 2019, we hosted 45 schools and acts that came from SA, Bots, and Malawi. We would work with mentors that would present or perform for the kids, and they would interact with as many as possible in the hope that they learn more about the discipline they wanted to pursue in their future. Each festival would also feature tertiaries and institutions like College Of Music, Music Cross Roads, and Afrikera that would come and exhibit to give students who were completing school a solid idea of where they could go to pursue their careers.”
The COVID-19 pandemic expanded LTT’s operations online in 2020 and 2021 when they held their first-ever virtual festivals. The digital edition of the Let Them Festival covers poetry, music, visual art, dance and theatre as creative mediums in which young people aged 9 to 19 can engage. These art forms are used to inform young people on social issues like education, substance abuse and mental health, gender-based violence, unity and climate change in a fun and exciting way.
Art trusts like Musasiwa-Gutu’s play an integral role in the discoverability of young artists, many of whom have gone on to perform outside of Zimbabwe. Now-nationally celebrated musicians, like Tamy Moyo and Tendai Mavenge (Zimbabwe’s youngest mbira recording artist), found their grounding on Let Them stages as teenagers.
Last year’s youth cohort not only got the opportunity to showcase their art but was featured in cinematic shorts filmed by award-winning production company Visual Sensations, led by Director Zen The Master. These videos also included 25 influencers and celebrities across the country, platforming emerging talent to the national arts sphere and beyond, as well as developing their portfolios and business skills for future opportunities.
Before this year's festival on the 30th of July, Musasiwa-Gutu shared with us her hopes, “This year we are celebrating the 10th anniversary on our Village land for the first time. We are more educated, and with all the learning from last year and the fact that we have streamlined it a little from last year, I trust it will be even bigger, more educative, and entertaining. We have a great team we are working with and I am so grateful to everyone that has been involved in our process year on end, from volunteers to subsidised rates to partnerships, some of which have run for years and some new. Together we will continue to grow and do all we can for the youth.”
Speaking on the future of LET THEM Trust, she says, “As a child-oriented creative, educational and cultural initiative, we aim to continue to create platforms for young people to groom and showcase their artistic talent and most importantly use their voices to initiate change and development on issues affecting them. This is why the village is so important. We believe through peer-to-peer interaction this project is going to shift young people’s mindsets, attitudes, and choices. The village will not only allow kids to have a space to grow their skillset but provide them with the partnerships and networks they need to develop a successful career in the arts.”
From the beginning of our history, art has not only been our way of life but an intrinsic part of our language and form of expression. The Let Them Village is an ambitious effort to reconnect us to our past as well as bring forward a more lucrative creative future for young Zimbabwean artists.