Arrest of Hifa organisers uncalled for

The Harare International Festival of the Arts (Hifa) is probably the biggest event around this time of the year after the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair.

Hifa attracts hundreds of artists all over the world and is a household arts event in Zimbabwe.

There are numerous economic spin-offs from the hosting of the event, such as hotel occupation and increased business for other industries that contribute to the success of Hifa.

No doubt, this is the sort of event that the government should be supporting, not just because of the economic benefits that accrue to the country, but also in view of the immense contribution that such high-profile events make to the creation of a positive image of the country.

It is a pedestrian statement of the obvious that Zimbabwe has the negative tag of being an outpost of tyranny which it should be working tirelessly to shrug off.

However, reports in yesterday’s issue of our newspaper on the arrest of the four of the organisers of Hifa who were later released with no charges preferred against them, merely serve to accentuate the claims that Zimbabwe is a country ruled with an iron fist.

On occasions such as Hifa, the police should be out in full force to provide security, especially for our visitors so that they can take the message back home that Zimbabwe is a safe tourist destination.

As it is, the perception that they will carry back to their homes is that democracy is alien to Zimbabwe and police are merely an instrument of repression as evidenced by the harassment of the Hifa organisers.

In this day and age of social media networks, it is the height of foolishness to believe that governments can gag dissenting voices.

The example of Egypt, where one of Africa’s worst despots, Hosni Mubarak, was ousted by people’s power speaks volumes of how oppressed people can rise and become an unstoppable tsunami sweeping through the doors of state power.

What is even worse is that the arrest of the Hifa organisers comes barely a week after NewsDay newsroom was raided by forces of darkness who got away with critical computer equipment, an act clearly intended to disable operations of the biggest selling and fastest growing daily newspaper in Zimbabwe.

Zanu PF is always harping about illegal sanctions, economic saboteurs and all that drivel, yet the real economic saboteurs are those amidst us who do things that portray us in bad light on the international arena — like overzealous police who arrested Hifa organisers.

Let us not be misunderstood here — we are not encouraging lawlessness — not at all — but merely counselling the police to uphold universally proclaimed rights such as freedom of expression and freedom of association.

They should thoroughly investigate allegations of whatever nature before taking in suspects.

It is also prudent to be tactful when dealing with high- profile events such as Hifa as news of the slightest incident spreads like veld fire.

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