The Sunday Mail
CONSIDER this, 1 113 artistes participated at last year’s Harare International Festival of the Arts (Hifa); of these, 263 were visiting performers from 31 nationalities while 850 were Zimbabwean.
Hifa had acquired a life of its own. However, it is no more. At best, maybe it is in a coma. And with that inactivity also goes the 139 performances staged at last year’s edition, 16 collaborations between locals and international acts, 24 outreach performances (free shows performed outside the festival site) and 25 workshops.
Hundreds of orphans and vulnerable children were brought to the festival site while students, being churned out of Zimbabwean universities by the thousands, were trained. Even street kids (street youth) had a bite of the cherry, about 55 of them got employment for that whole week last year. In total -1 200 people – site, general hand and technical people, were employed at Hifa during the 2018 edition of the festival.
One wonders; could this be the end? Are all the aforementioned benefits gone? Is this the death of Hifa? What will be the impact of a Hifa-less local arts industry?
Last Sunday, May 5, would have been the last day of the acclaimed festival. This year’s ill-fated edition of the arts fete had been slated for April 30 to May 5.
It was not to be.
The week flew past without anyone noticing that a giant in the arts sector was missing. Where Harare, rather Zimbabwe, would have come to a standstill with some African stars belting out tunes at the various stages of Hifa, usually accompanied rising young talent, there was nothing.
There is no doubt that the festival would have been one of the most befitting ways to pay tribute to the late Dr Oliver “Tuku” Mtukudzi, the superstar singer, who time and again was called upon to bring decency to the Hifa Main Stage when organisers found the going tough.
Like Tuku, Hifa has fallen silent.
Except for the organisers themselves – no one even knows if Hifa will make a comeback. Its eventual silence had been a long time coming. Clutching at straws for the most part in recent years, the festival would skip a year or barely keep themselves breathing with “throughout the year events”, which were largely unpopular.
It was not surprising at all that the hope-giving sound of the life support machine (donor community and corporates) stopped beeping, instead giving out that deathly continuous noise which signals the end of life.
Gone, maybe not, the impact of the demise of Hifa has been felt throughout the economy. In previous interviews with Tafadzwa Simba, the Hifa associate executive director, he availed to this publication figures that showed how the abovementioned number of visiting artistes’ coming to Zimbabwe contributed to the economy.
He told this publication that every group that came in from outside the country had to pay US$500 for a work permit, that every non-SADC artiste had to pay for a visa, which on average was about US$30 per visa. Furthermore, all tickets had to have 15 percent VAT deducted – which was done in a transparent manner as the Hifa ticketing system was fiscalised and auditable such that the festival and Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (Zimra) would be sure that appropriate VAT was collected.
All non-Zimbabwean acts had to have 15 percent deducted from their performance fees. This had to be paid to Zimra in advance of the acts’ coming into the country because without the tax collector’s clearance, they would not get work permits.
All Zimbabwean performers were supposed to take care of their own compliance with Zimra income tax and VAT. In instances where these performers would not have a Tax Clearance certificate, Hifa had to deduct and pass on to Zimra that withholding tax.
This is notwithstanding the fact that businesses generated by third parties at or because of Hifa also resulted in taxes accruing to the Government. Every bar, every food outlet, every bag of chips, biltong or popcorn was run or sold by an entity unrelated to Hifa.
Talk of paper printers (programmes, posters, leaflets, ticket sleeves and training manuals), signage printers, transportation services for artistes and other festival stakeholders, accommodation, uniform printers, venues hire and equipment hire (tents, chairs, tables).
There was also hardware for the venues like paint, electrical consumables and audio visual equipment. Imports were, of course, done by local providers to supplement whatever they did not have. Security services (non-state private organisations) also got into the mix. Needless to say, airtime and broadband would be consumed at a higher rate by festival attendees while about 120 handicraft artisans, for instance, at last year’s festival, sold their wares during the Hifa week.
The Harare International Carnival came and went, so did Clive Malunga’s Jenaguru, Mbira Festival, Chimanimani Arts Festival and Miombo Magic Fest, among many others. Some might come back – but many will not.
It is still unclear what the fate of Hifa will be – but for now, the Hifa 2020 celebrations, where Bagorro and team intended to celebrate the festival’s 20th edition is, for now, definitely on ice.
The Sunday Mail Society spoke to some industry players, including the National Arts Council of Zimbabwe (NACZ) over this development on the local arts scene. Read on…
The custodian of the local arts industry, through their spokesperson Catherine Mthombeni, admitted that the shelving of Hifa this year is a blow to the arts and culture sector.
“…Given that the major objective of Hifa is to create a platform for local artistes to showcase their artistry and network with their international counterparts, it is huge blow. As NACZ, we value the festival and its cancellation due to reasons beyond the organisers control is a sad development.”
Zandile Zaza Ndlovu
The events producer and vice president of the Arts Journalists Association of Zimbabwe (Ajaz), was at pains explaining how the arts were always sacrificed in times of trouble, yet they contribute so much to society’s well-being.
“Hifa symbolically is an arts festival that embodies the diversity of all art forms in Zimbabwe, it is a unifier of all cultures, it is the one time that Zimbabweans become colour blind, and tribal blind and are united by their love for the arts.
“In 1999 when it was first held, it brought about hope to the arts community of Zimbabwe. And has been a gateway for synergies and partnerships with other arts practitioners from across the globe. The failure to have the 2016 edition of Hifa was at the time deemed a restructuring phase. Now we see that it was in actual fact a precursor to its collapse,” she said.
Zaza said it was heart-breaking to see Hifa collapse as it had elevated Zimbabwe’s status and was ranked in the top 10 of African arts festivals.
The chairperson and founder of local development player, Zimbabwe Network for Economic and Social Transformation (Zinest), decried Hifa’s demise, saying he knew many local artistes who cut their teeth at Hifa and hopes that a lasting solution will be found for Hifa to return stronger.
“Hifa is one of the major highlights on the national arts calendar. It is disheartening that the event was called off this year. Beyond just being an arts showcase, Hifa means employment opportunities and it had become a very good way of marketing brand Zimbabwe to the world.
“The local arts sector has vast potential to contribute to the GDP and as a network that advocates for meaningful economic and social transformation through promotion excellence and productivity in local business, media and arts; we are generally dismayed at this development at Hifa.
“While I am not really privy as to whether all avenues have been explored to ensure the event takes off, I am of the view that all arts stakeholders, including Government, should have found a way of avoiding this sad and regrettable development.”
The founder of Jibilika and Earground Radio is a product of Hifa, having been part of the first festival in 1999 as one of the many workers.
“That 1999 experience exposed me to a new imagination – possibilities that took me to where I am today with the arts. It’s unfortunate that one of Africa’s biggest and most sought-after festivals will not be taking place. It is a prime artistic event on our national calendar and provides a platform to hundreds of artistes, producers, media and other ancillary service providers, creating jobs and revenue.
“Zimbabwe desperately needs the festival for brand and confidence building, for social cohesion, inspiration and recreation. I hope the ministry (Ministry of Youth, Sport, Arts and Recreation) will intervene to help save existing strategic arts platforms from closing. On the other hand, this is an opportunity for emerging creatives and producers to fill the space and provide alternative programming.”
Revered bassist, musician and chairperson of the Zimbabwe Union of Musicians, WeUtonga said the disappearance of Hifa from the local arts scene is a sad thing for the arts in Zimbabwe “as this is one of the few major highlights that gives us an opportunity to showcase, collaborate and learn”.
“This also brings to attention the lack of support for the arts in Zimbabwe. The festival not only benefits performing artistes, but is a tourist attraction as many travel from far afield to attend. The youth are employed during the festival. Stages and equipment are hired from service providers, our schools benefit as they also bring children to participate and learn through the Youth Zone. The introduction of visual and performing arts in schools would benefit children attending Hifa. A lot is affected,” said WeUtonga.