Last month organisers of the Harare International Festival of the Arts (Hifa) shocked arts enthusiasts when they announced that the festival would not take place next year.
By Jairos Saunyama
According to the organisers, the biggest arts event on the country’s showbiz calendar will return in 2017 after re-branding.
“We will create more platforms for artistes and their development… For the next 18 months, we will be building up to the next Hifa, as you know it will be in 2017,” said Hifa executive director, Maria Wilson last month.
Indeed, local artistes from various disciplines who have been capitalising on marketing themselves suffered a major blow as they now have to seek other platforms to make themselves known as well as to sell their artifacts.
However, despite Hifa being the biggest centre of attraction, the country has also been hosting a number of arts and cultural festivals that have been slowly building their own fanbase. Such festivals include Mashonaland East Cultural Festival (Mecuf), Intwasa, Pfumvudza Arts Festival and Bindura Arts Festival, to mention just a few.
Arts commentator and University of Zimbabwe lecturer Fred Zindi, said the departure of Hifa is in doubt due to a number of reasons, chief among them, the withdrawal of potential sponsorship. He said this was the opportunity for local promoters to create alternative festivals.
“The fact that Hifa is unable to host a festival next year is a sign showing the beginning of the end of Hifa. The signs were clear from last year when big sponsors like Telecel pulled out,” said Zindi.
“There are many promoters in Zimbabwe capable of hosting a festival of this nature. Other local promoters should take advantage of this and create an alternative festival which will attract both black and white people. Then soon we will all forget that Hifa ever existed.”
With the brains of experienced people such as Tafadzwa Simba, Wilson, Manuel Bagorro, Elton Mjanana, Soukaina Edom, Stephen Chifunyise, Muchadeyi Masunda, and others brought on board by Hifa, it boggles the mind when one talks of expanding the already big festival in the country.
The current economic hardships bedevilling the country have affected the arts sector as well. Peripheral festivals are thriving due to less expenses, possibly because of their proximity and surroundings. These festivals have been sponsored by the community, for example local businesspeople and the traditional leadership. They have been the major attraction in entertainment-starved communities.
Peripheral festivals, despite having less sponsorship from notable corporate organisations, have been and are still the oasis of untapped talent.
Mecuf programmes officer Currathers Hungwe, said Hifa’s sabbatical is an opportunity for rural festivals to be recognised.
“Rural arts festivals are facing a number of challenges and barriers in terms of attention since taking a look at the economic turmoil herein; little or no funding is slowing/weakening progress in terms of arts production and proper publication to the many audience that awaits,” said Hungwe.
“If it has not been the community sponsoring some festivals, we could have been talking about something else.”
Pfumvudza Arts Festival director Ronald Badza said the National Arts Council of Zimbabwe (NACZ) erred in the first place by neglecting peripheral festivals.
“NACZ needs to make sponsors aware of rural or small festivals, and maybe come up with a grant that can save as means of support of such programmes,” said Badza.
“Artistes in my community feel left out and that the NACZ provincial offices really are not operating at maximum capacity, hence people think arts and culture are not sustainable.”
The break taken by Hifa did not affect only artistes, but a number of people who would get jobs during the staging of the festival for the past 15 years.