The Sunday Mail
The organisers of the Harare International Festival of the Arts (Hifa) were still battling last night to get clearance for South African afro-soul group Freshlyground to perform as the final act of the festival.
Some were accusing Hifa of misleading festival goers that the group would definitely be performing at the festival tonight even though they were fully aware that the group could be denied entry into the country.
Senior Government officials last night slammed the organisers for deliberately risking disappointing festival goers but Hifa was still adamant that the act would go on.
Festival organisers last week sold thousands of US$25 tickets to music fans for an uncertain closing act.
The Sunday Mail Leisure team heard as early as Thursday that the provocative South African band might not make the trip to Harare after the authorities indicated the group were not acceptable visitors.
Tafadzwa Simba, a spokesperson for Hifa, was yesterday still insisting that everything was on course and went further and said they would be arriving this afternoon.
“Issues to do with visas, permits and other matters to do with foreign artistes performing at Hifa is what we spend most of our time doing.
“Everything is on course and the official position is that Freshlyground is going to perform tomorrow (today),” maintained Simba when confronted with reports by The Sunday Mail Leisure team.
Hifa’s executive director Mrs Maria Wilson is said to have visited the Ministry of Information, Media and Broadcasting Services on Friday night to plead with senior officials asking them to intervene, but was advised to approach the Ministry of Sports, Arts and Culture.
A security guard at the ministry said a woman from Hifa, believed to be Mrs Wilson, sobbed uncontrollably as she pleaded with the Ministry of Information, Media and Broadcasting Services principal director Regis Chikowore to use his contacts in Government to rescue the show.
Questions have been raised about Hifa’s sincerity, as the organisers went on to advertise an act and sell tickets for a show they had not fully cleared with the authorities. Professional standards in the entertainment industry dictate that tickets only be sold once an act has been cleared by the authorities.
In October 2010, Freshlyground was forced to cancel a performance in the capital after the immigration department turned down their application for work permits.
Officials at the immigration department were quoted then, saying they reserved the right of admission into the country for any foreign national and were not obliged to give reasons.
Given that history, speculation is rife that Hifa organisers deliberately chose Freshlyground and did not seek clearance from the authorities until the 11th hour in the hope of creating an unnecessary standoff with Government and generating international publicity for the festival.
In particular, questions are being asked on what basis Hifa organisers felt the previous Government position could be changed especially in light of the group’s hostility towards the national leadership.
In 2010, the provocative group released the song ‘‘Chicken to Change’’ with the video depicting President Robert Mugabe as a frail and ugly cartoon and urging him to ‘‘chinja’’ in an apparent reference to the opposition party MDC’s slogan.
The authorities are said to have been dismayed by the group’s decision to take political sides and attempting to use their music to advance political goals.
A local artiste who preferred to remain anonymous for fear of victimisation believes Hifa organisers chose the group specifically for their record in the hope of creating a win-win situation whatever the outcome.
In the event that the group was denied entry, the festival would enjoy considerable publicity and sympathy from donors generally viewed as hostile to President Mugabe’s policies.
“If the show is allowed to go on then the group will probably want to perform Chicken to Change and thereby create even more hype. This is showbiz and Hifa management are professionals at playing this game. They have the Government exactly where they want it,” she said.
She added that it was particularly reckless for a festival as large as Hifa to be advertising and selling tickets for an act previously denied entry before getting complete clearance from the authorities.
A security consultant based in Bulawayo expressed concern about the possibility of sparking a riot and urged Hifa to come clean and advise festival-goers in good time that the act has not yet been cleared and could be cancelled.
“The problem with festivals is people usually make sure they are drunk before they arrive creating a particularly rowdy crowd. It would be very irresponsible for Hifa to announce this from the stage since angry fans could destroy parked vehicles or retaliate against the festival’s security team. When you have thousands of people gathered you have to be extremely careful because anything can happen,” he said.
Last night, there was concern within the corridors of Government that Hifa had deliberately set the stage for a confrontation with the authorities and that festival-goers would unfairly direct their anger towards the authorities if the act did not get clearance.
Manuel Bagoro, the festival’s media savvy artistic director, is known to court controversy and it is suspected that he may have chosen Freshlyground knowing fully well that Government could deny them entry as happened a few years ago.
Freshlyground could join a long list of international artistes that have been barred from entering several countries around the world for different reasons.
In 2007, the rowdy American rapper, Snoop Dogg, real name Calvin Cordozar Broadus, was barred from entering Australia and in 2012 he was again banned from Norway. The British authorities also refused to allow him to enter the country.
A Home Office spokesman at the time said it could not comment on individual cases.
“The home secretary has the power to refuse entry clearance to non-UK citizens if he considers that their presence here would not be conducive to the public good,” he said.
Arab nations are known not to tolerate musicians that undermine local customs.
In 2009, American pop-star Beyonce was barred from Malaysia for her semi-nude performances, her husband rap superstar Jay-Z was also barred from China in 2006 over allegedly vulgar lyrics.