There's No HIFA 2019 & Here's WHY we're Conflicted
Chanje Kunda performing 'Amsterdam' - HIFA 2017| Copyright Francesca Sibanda

There’s No HIFA 2019 & Here’s WHY we’re Conflicted

The mother of all Arts festivals, the Harare International Festival of Arts has announced another break in their programming. I would say I was surprised but sadly I am far from it. In a statement, HIFA’s Executive Director Maria Wilson highlighted that Zimbabwe’s economy and surroundings make a big ‘safe’ bet like HIFA a pretty difficult one to make.

“Zimbabwe is dealing with many important issues, both social and economic. In this context, the Festival cannot responsibly commit to presenting a viable event of the same quality and impact that HIFA is known for this year,” Maria Wilson (HIFA Executive Director)



For years HIFA was the wet dream of promoters in the country, an oasis of Art, class and racial cohesion. For a whimsical six days, Harare lit up. The homeless men and unemployed youth were otherwise preoccupied. The city both looked and smelt cleaner. Foreign nationals strewed our pavements with backpacks and unusual fashion. There was, despite any national affliction a good dose of euphoria in the air.

As the years rolled forward a new audience was born, the rise of the Afrollenial middle-class I like to call it. Alas, this birth went on unnoticed. There was no fanfare, no welcome parade. Yet annually, Zimbabwe’s biggest festival visited us. Each new show came with its burdensome pricing; each new line-up became more and more alienating. A break was taken once more in 2016, a few sparse miniature events that involved the ballet, opera and foreign orchestras were thrown sparingly across what felt like an empty year in entertainment.

2017 came and HIFA, the fair mythical being she was gave us a show filled with prophetic innuendos. Foretelling the new dispensation the theme was titled ‘staging an intervention’.

The year after left us both frazzled and indifferent, there was no magic; save for the waning euphoria borrowed only from the recent political shift. This was the year we chose not to attend the festival simply because its line-up failed to inspire enthusiasm, pun intended.

Despite ALL of this, HIFA Associate Executive Director Tafadzwa Simba estimated past ticket sales to be as high as 40,000 annually and gauged turn-out for the 2918 closing show at 5,000 patrons.

A clear sign that support for the festival is NOT what is in question.

The Festival that refers to itself as “Zimbabwe’s largest arts initiative” and as “widely acknowledged as one of the best arts and culture initiatives on the Continent”; says it will use this time to work on other projects in schools while planning for a big anniversary showcase from 28 April to 3 May 2020.

We get that hosting a multi-faceted festival of HIFA’s magnitude in Zimbabwe is…complex but black-owned, younger, lesser financed  ‘initiatives’ like Unplugged, The Cook-Off, Vic Falls Carnival are towing the line despite this. We don’t see them retreating to a corner simply because ‘things got hard’. I realize how condescending and over-simplified this view seems and that’s okay. It is almost as simple as three things; Programming, Models and (forgotten) Audiences.

We are not upset because our fair maiden is struggling; we are sad because time and time again she has chosen NOT to adapt.

One Comment
  • Frank Mandeya
    15 March 2019 at 12:04
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