Zimbabwe national dress and identity crisis


IN 2005, the then Education, Sport, Arts and Culture Minister Aeneas Chigwedere launched what was to be called a national dress but it never saw the light of day.
The fabric had all colours of the national flag with a print of animals representing various totems such as lion, zebra and elephant among other unique features of the country. The idea died a natural death.
Designers and tailors were invited to submit samples of what they deemed would be a suitable dress for Zimbabweans, but unfortunately no accepted dress was found and Cde Chigwedere left the ministry, since then no one has taken it up. It seems Western dress code has become synonymous with our culture, as a result of cultural imperialism.
While Zimbabweans have expressed their wish to be identified as Africans by wearing West African garb at some functions, there is nothing at the moment that identifies Zimbabweans in terms of dressing except, of course, political party regalia, which does not really count, at least outside the country.
As a way of trying to shrug off Western attire, Zimbabweans have sometimes been forced to wear what has become known as African attire even though it is West African fabric.
Many Zimbabweans say that they feel out of place when confronted with the problem of what to wear when asked to wear traditional dress.
Gradually outfits inspired by Nigeria and Ghana have begun to be termed traditional dress locally, although in reality there is nothing that our ancestors would recognise in the resulting get ups.
Perhaps the term African attire is more suitable as the outfits have been traditional in countries like Ghana and Nigeria for a long time. If countries with complex cultures like South Africa and Malaysia can have a national dress, how about Zimbabwe with its more of a unified culture, bar of course the political polarisation that has divided the country for over a decade now.
Traditional dress in Zimbabwe includes a wrap around cloth, headdress and ornaments, including necklaces, earrings and bracelets.
The people of Zimbabwe no longer wear these types of clothing on a regular basis. Some choose traditional dress for ceremonial or state occasions, such as Heroes’ Day or Independence Day, according to countries and their cultures.
Traditionalists and cultural observers in Zimbabwe say any nation worth its name on this planet must have a national dress anchored in its cultural beliefs, values and principles of its people and a national dress will definitely assist in defining and distinguishing Zimbabweans from other nationalities.
They argue that above all, national dressing unifies citizens of a country regardless of the fact that they are dispersed across the globe.
They argue Government, therefore, must quickly address this issue at policy level and ensure that we have a national dress that will invoke a sense of patriotism and confidence among Zimbabweans. They said the nation, nationhood and national identity are just theoretical but critical aspects for any country on the planet.
The national dress just like the country’s national monuments, national anthem and national flag are some of the crucial aspects in reinforcing the concept of the nation and national identity.
The national dress as an aspect and a signification of people’s values, identity and culture should also play its part in helping Zimbabweans’ imaginations of the nation real. At the moment, we do not have what we can call an embodiment of the country’s national heritage.
According to officials from the then Ministry of Sport and Recreation, the company that was producing what was adopted as national dress years back was no longer operational.
They admitted and claimed we have a national dress that was launched some years ago and Zimbabweans are still using the national fabric but it cannot be availed now because it is no longer available.
However, given such a scenario the national dress issue should be looked at a broader perspective of things that will include inter-alia national dress, national identity, cohesion and patriotism.
There has been no co-ordinated approach to the national dress agenda over the years.
Some beauty pageants are having models to wear another proposed national dress like the “Nhowe Zimbabwe Dress” but the idea seems to have died a natural death again.
The National Arts Council of Zimbabwe, an organisation that champions the arts and cultural values of Zimbabweans, feels coming up with a national dress is a complex process that required consideration of a number of things.
The organisation argues that if there is a desire to have national dress what could have caused the failure of past efforts considering that churches, political parties, schools, and other groupings have uniforms that identify them.
Zimbabwe being one of the most outspoken against imperialism, it is time, we walk the talk by showing that we have not only gained political independence and in the process of being economically empowered but is completely independent in all facets including culture.
There is need for wide consultations on how the national dress should look like so that it can be adopted effortlessly. The national dress could be the tonic we need to be united because at the moment citizens are divided along political party lines, race, religion and even football clubs.
According to some scholars Africa has a long history of weaving and drawings of looms have been discovered in Egyptian grave sites dating back to 2000 BC. Countries like Mauritius, Nigeria, Madagascar and Uganda have long histories of cloth weaving, dyeing and clothes manufacture.
However there seems to be no cloth weaving history for Zimbabwe where apparently our introduction to cloth came with the Portuguese traders who contributed so richly to the Shona and Munhumatapa Empire.
Prior to that it is believed that locals made do with cured hides which were a distinction that clothing items like the Mhapa, shashiko and nhembeshure were designed to only cover the parts that really matter at the front and back respectively.
Royalty and nobility were singled out by their privilege to wear the skins of animals like lions and leopards which were forbidden for the commoners.
The dress problem is a challenge of the larger picture where our present culture is diverse and bears little resemblance to the traditions of our deceased ancestors.
The absence of defining boundaries does not give us an identity crisis but instead allows us to define the future, in fashion and other sectors of culture.


  1. Zimbabweans really needs an i dentity. We are hosting a cultural event and we running with dress your culture…and everyone s question lately has been you mean nhembe??or do we have one?? our culture has been so diluted that we dont even know who we are anymore

  2. Identity is the very least of Zimbabwe’s problems. Leave people to decide what they wish to wear otherwise politicians do your jobs, people lack the most basic needs and you are trying to find a dress code!!!

  3. Dude, politics are things we can’t change individually, even if we get on track politically, we still don’t have an identity we can hold on to. We have dying culture. Why are you even on this website if you’re so stuck up on politics. It’s shit we can’t change right now but let’s at least focus on something we can.

  4. What does a national dress code do for people who are desperately in dire need of basic necessities? People should be left alone to make their own choices as to what they want to wear. My identity is more than what the eye can see. Let’s talk about creating jobs, upgrading hospitals so healthcare is accessible to everyone, bring back a functional agricultural sector to produce food for citizens. Clothing should not a priority at all!


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