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Harare Arts Festival Opens to Criticism


The 10th edition of the annual Harare International Festival of the Arts (HIFA) kicked off amidst fanfare and fireworks. However some in the Zimbabwean capital are complaining that the festival caters to a small, well-off, section of the community.

Opening nights at the Harare International Festival of the Arts (HIFA) have always been spectacular affairs. The festival is one of the biggest in Southern Africa.

But from the time of its inception ten years ago, critics have noted the festival's target audience is the city's minority middle class and that organizers ignore the city's majority, mostly poor, population.

Larry, an actor who has attended HIFA, said the festival's location in downtown Harare and the price of tickets are what keep HIFA from being a true peoples' festival.

"There are people that will feel HIFA is exclusive because of where it is and the sort of people that have access to that area, are of a certain group," said Larry. "And I look at the pricing and it is $5 for a show."

In Mbare, the closest high-density area to the city, one resident told VOA, HIFA organizers overlook them.

"You are not seeing even one poster to advertise that they are doing HIFA so we think they will be doing HIFA for the suburban areas where people have enough money; so we are the poor people that is what they take us for," he said.

Another resident of Mbare said the festival should also come to their community so that it can reach young people.

"I think it's a good idea to come and perform some of the arts here in the high density [area] because a lot of young people don't even know about HIFA so if they come and perform here, a lot will know," he said.

HIFA executive director Maria Wilson said she is aware of the need to take the festival to the people. She notes that some performances and workshops are being held in Chitungwiza, one of Harare's high density areas.

"So artists will be going out to Chitungwiza in order to perform there and hold concerts there, workshops there," said Maria Wilson. "As the festival grows this is now something we can do, even move out of just Harare's confines into other centers in the country."

Wilson also mentions logistics and the lack of equipment in the country as one of the many stumbling blocks to rolling out the festival.

However, not everyone is critical of HIFA. Rumbi Katedza is a Zimbabwean filmmaker and she is full of praise for the organizers of HIFA.

"I think the people who do attend think it's a fabulous event, I also agree it's something that should happen every year because it's great fun," said Rumbi Katedza.

Katedza also says that instead of complaining, people should find ways of doing things for themselves.

"But by the same token those who complain about it should start focusing on other ways of finding [forums] themselves because we shouldn't be scrambling and screaming about 'you should be doing this for me', we should be going out there and doing other events that represent ourselves perhaps better," she said.

And this year, the festival organizers boast, it's going to be one of the biggest ever. More than 1,000 international and local artists are slated to perform. If the opening night is anything to go by, it might just turn out to be one of the best.

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