IT was a sad sight on Wednesday afternoon at Harare International Airport when the international participants of Umoja Flying Carpet exchange programme were denied entry into the country due to the unavailability of police clearance from their countries.
The entourage that was denied entry includes 16 South Africans, 13 Norwegians and 15 Mozambicans of which a significant number of the entourage was minors.
The Umoja team based in Zimbabwe in-charge of the logistics said: “We were told all the participants needed police clearances from their home countries.”
Zimbabwe Immigration spokesperson Mr Francis Mabika refuted the police clearance issue.
“The participants did not have the required permits. We advised UMOJA before their participants came into the country,” Mabika said.
Umoja country manager Elisha Herema said: “Immigrations put up some laws they did not publicise. We were not even aware of them. After learning of the developments, we engaged the bosses there and they kept telling us to come the following day until it was Wednesday morning, about an hour prior to the participants flying in. That is when we were told there is nothing that could be done.
“Previously, we have brought in artistes with the help of the National Arts Council.”
After the efforts failed to bear fruit, the logistics team then explored an avenue where the participants would get entry into the country, but would not perform publicly. Rather, they would just get in camp with other artistes, but that also failed.
“I am not sure of that development, but normally you do not change the purpose of your visit,” Mabika said.
International artistic co-ordinator of Umoja, Koen Schyvens, said: “We kept hoping and hoping until around 8pm when we learnt that the Norwegians were on their way to Addis Ababa and the Mozambicans and South Africans were sent to Johannesburg. It was a sad moment it felt like a funeral.
“I can imagine that Norwegian authorities are not happy, I don’t know.”
Speaking on behalf of the National Arts Council of Zimbabwe (NACZ), assistant director Audrey Charamba said Umoja knew what was required.
“Umoja knew about all the requirements needed because it is not their first time doing this. They had submitted all the relevant paperwork we needed as NACZ,” she said.
“We are not aware of any problems they are facing as they have not notified us.”
Norway is the sole funder of UMOJA Flying Carpet cultural exchange programme which is among Norway, Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe.
There has been speculation that as the biggest funder was not too impressed with what transpired on the day, they are likely to withdraw the funding.
Charge d’Affair of the Zimbabwean Royal Norwegian Embassy Inger Tveit said: “We find this very sad. They needed police clearance from their countries which takes over two weeks to process and Umoja was only told last Friday. It was far too late.”
Tveit added: “We will remember this when we do assessments. I am not going to say that from tomorrow, we will stop funding. We are still looking into the matter, we still don’t know what really happened. I can’t really say we are stopping.”
Umoja management said they would continue to hold shows that were billed to take place, but sadly it would only be Zimbabweans participating.
The next Umoja show will be this Saturday at Stodart Hall in Mbare, Harare, while the final show will be held at 7 Arts Theatre in Avondale on August 9.