Not all was bliss at Hifa

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This year has been Harare International Festival of the Arts (Hifa)’s biggest year so far.

The annual festival that has been running since 1999 reached its ultimate success this year with over 61 000 tickets sold over the six-day event held at Harare Gardens from April 27 to May 2. But the event has not been free pf criticism.

Executive director Maria Wilson and her team of organisers say they were pleasantly surprised by the high turnout from both local Zimbabweans and those who had travelled from as far as Australia and the USA.

The opening show which is the highlight of the festival saw the initial 4 000 tickets sold out and organisers were forced to increase the numbers to accommodate over 5 000.

This has posed Hifa another challenge as the Harare Gardens venue cannot accommodate comfortably the ever increasing crowd.

Hifa communications officer, Tafadzwa Simba, suggested they might be considering bigger venues for 2011. “We might be forced to look at other venues in order to accommodate everyone who wants to be part of Hifa,” he said.

This year’s event not only opened doors for new and existing local artists but also created hundreds of jobs and business opportunities for local suppliers.

Despite the challenges of lack of power and running water, the event went on without any major hitches, at least nothing the public could see.

Behind the scenes it was a different story with organisers frantically working to keep everything in tune and on time.

Besides the obvious challenges that go with major events, the Hifa team were under scrutiny from security personnel who insisted on seeing scripts of all the plays and performances presented.

A source that worked closely with the Hifa team said they were constantly asked to show what would be exhibited and their productions were checked for anything that could be deemed offensive.

Hifa is a non-profit charitable organisation which relies on sponsorship from corporate companies, diplomats and the non-governmental organisations.

In the world cities that hold similar events, most of the funding comes from central government, city councils and arts organisation.

However, due to the unfavourable economic situation in Zimbabwe, Hifa gets 70% of its funding from corporate companies in the country.

Unlike the common belief that Hifa makes huge profits, Wilson insists that the event just makes enough to break even.

“We would appreciate more support from the City of Harare, especially in terms of lower venue charges”, she said. She however pointed out that their working relations with the National Arts Council has remained good over the years.

Once a year, people of different religions, cultures, race and nationalities are brought together by the spirit of Hifa. The organisers aim to forge a lasting partnership to move Zimbabwe into a more positive environment through arts and culture.

In the past, artists have been accused of attacking the government through their expressive works of art, sculptures, paintings, poetry and theatre.

Recent media reports have accused Hifa of “compromising Zimbabwe’s “culture” by exposing the general public to homosexual acts and prostitution.

“Hifa has once again been shrouded in controversy after it emerged the arts extravaganza is a meeting place for homosexuals,” the Zanu PF People’s Voice reported. On the other hand white women visiting the event “are usually in search of experiencing love from a true African man,” the party organ quoted a local as saying.

The People’s Voice claimed that Hifa is taking a platform as an arts talent search while they pursue hidden agendas like promoting homosexuality and causing political unrest.

These allegations are vehemently rejected as “ridiculous” by the Hifa team that has already started to think about next year’s event which they promise to be bigger and better.

Quizzed about having more international artists than locals, Wilson pointed out that Hifa was a truly international festival which happened to take place in Harare.

She gave a comparison of the Edinburgh Festival which sees thousands of people from around the world gather in the city.

On allegations of pushing a political agenda, Wilson says they do not censor any of the artists’ work, whether in plays, sculpture or music. “There is no censorship on content but only regarding integrity,” said Wilson with strong conviction.

Observers have compared the seemless efficiency of the Hifa organisation with the chaos of the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair in Bulawayo where Iranian business people found their hotel bookings had not been made and transport woes proved problematic.