Zimbabwe’s annual premier arts festival, the Harare International Festival of the Arts (Hifa), is set to kick off in the city on April 27, marking its 11th year as one of sub-Saharan Africa’s most internationally acclaimed bashes.
Founded in 1999 by Manuel Bagorro (also festival coordinator), a Zimbabwean based in the United States, Hifa has grown over the years into a showcase of the best of Zimbabwe’s art and culture in all its diversity.
The festival’s huge audience appeal — attracting at least 60 000 people — is drawn from local, regional and international art lovers united in six days of a celebration that includes music, theatre, visual art, spoken-word, circus and street performance. Established as a non-profit organisation, Hifa depends entirely on funding from investors and donors.
Theatre productions are a major attraction at the festival, many of which explore the salient issues of the day.
One of the stand-out productions, General Purpose Affiliations — written by Mandisi Gobodi and directed by Patience Tawengwa — is a hilarious comedy for adults only that involves three sex-starved leaders: Bobby, Archie and Marvin. Together they discuss threesomes, marriages, affairs and small houses. Ironically, they are all in love with the same woman and strike a deal to marry her.
According to a source at Hifa, it is “not always smooth sailing” when it comes to theatre productions because “all plays go to the censorship board and even though none of the plays has been banned, and no one has been jailed, there really is a fine line that one has to tread”.
Also at the festival will be Bulawayo-based playwright Raisedon Baya’s The Woman Who didn’t Belong to a Political Party; South African Andrew Buckland presents his production of Hero with Craig Morris and Stuart Stobbs; and Black Jesus, (the result of a recent research trip to Zimbabwe to explore themes of reconciliation) by British-based Zimbabweans Chipo Chang and Michael Pearce, of Fourth World Productions.
Many of the shows deal with issues of morality in times of distress. In the notes to her show Tawengwa puts it like this: “What does it matter if laws are broken when carnal delights are within reach?”
Harare’s annual platform provides a moment to engage with reality — and a moment to get lost in the wonder of the arts.