Home » Arts & Culture » Fie for Shame, Hifa, Fie for Shame! [analysis]

If Tsvangirai, with a proven voting record of getting over a million votes each election, fails to unseat a popular government, why on earth would a foreign group of half-decent singers performing to 4 000 or so people somehow be a threat requiring political sanction? This is just foolish. The application failed, and HIFA should seek to find out why, instead of insinuating that there was something underhanded about that refusal.

LIKE most people, I am nauseated by the statement issued by HIFA 2014 on what they call “the Freshlyground Order of Events”.

For those that, like myself, have never bothered with HIFA or have not heard about this “Freshlyground” thing, a brief explanation. HIFA is, generally, a fairly successful international arts festival held annually in Harare and is the recipient of some tremendous goodwill, from people in Zimbabwe and those that visit our country.

It is generally quite well attended. People from all races and, usually, by percentage population, many non-black people attend this festival. Different artistes are invited to attend, and one of them is usually billed to headline the finale. This year, the group chosen to headline the event’s last day was something called “Fresh-lyground” whose “artistic credentials and accomplishments have been recognised the world over”, according to HIFA.

Don’t know who Freshlyground is? No, there is nothing wrong with you, neither did I until they failed to get a visa. Apparently, when HIFA sampled the “world over” for evidence of who recognised Fresh-lyground, they did not ask you or I. Nor your friend, or your neighbour neither.

In fact, they did not ask anyone that you (or I) know, but that is besides the point, after all, where we really going to go to HIFA anyway? You see, the “world over” according to HIFA merely refers to the small minority of people that go to these events. I am sure these are good people, and there is nothing wrong with them attending, it is just that they are not “the world over”.

Freshlyground, according to their official Wikipedia entry, “is a South African Afro-fusion band that formed was in Cape Town in 2002. The band members variously hail from South Africa, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe”. Nothing sinister about that, surely? Except, if you wanted to be nit-picky, for an “afro” group they seem to have an usually high number of people that would otherwise not tick the box marked “Black African” on any country’s entry visa application form.

But that is besides the point. There are bands in South Africa that attend events in Zimbabwe all the time. But, there is something else about Freshlyground, which gives you a clue about which “whole world” HIFA is on about. This group’s only claim to fame in Zimbabwe is that one of their “songs” appears to mock our politics.

As it turns out, they were denied a visa, a fact which, in their statement, they refer to as “deportment” – which if my English serves me well is a word that means “the way a person stands and walks, particularly as an element of etiquette”!

Maybe they are “afro” after all! Maybe therein is the clue as to why their visa was refused, straight from the horse’s mouth. Deportment! Someone give these people some grooming classes!

Anyhow, HIFA seems to be going on a tangent about a straightforward matter. Immigration control in Zimbabwe, like in any other country, exists for a reason: to control who comes into our country. HIFA makes a lot of hay about how they applied for the permit for Freshlyground on time, that the application “was valid” and how other people that they applied for at the same time in fact got their permits. In other words, according to HIFA, because an application was aued! How foolish is that?

The whole point of having an application process is that someone somewhere will make a decision on such an application. And giving someone a discretion to decide on an application means also giving them the power to either grant or to refuse that application. Otherwise, the whole application process would be otiose.

The idea that any application must be granted simply because it has been made is foolish to say the least. It is the same rubbish reasoning that has allowed a certain man to keep crying foul each time he loses elections because he goes into each round expecting, like HIFA apparently did, either a successful outcome or, in the alternative, a successful outcome. That is a classic case of impaling oneself with a Morton’s Fork.

Making a “valid application” simply means that you have made the application on the correct application form, that the relevant application fees have been paid, that the application has been made in terms of the procedure laid out in the immigration rules, for a visa of a type that is provided for in the said rules, that the application is being made on time, and that it has been sent to the correct government department.

Making a “valid application” is relevant to the procedure, not the outcome, though clearly an invalid application will be rejected for being invalid, and not on the merits. Where a valid application is made, as is claimed was done in this case, someone vested with the discretion to either grant or refuse the application will still need to make a decision on it. In this case, the decision of that person was No.

HIFA makes the patronising statement that they are “confident of Government departments’ capacity for common sense and professionalism which HIFA has always experienced from these departments and that HIFA is also confident such common sense and professionalism will set in” when they apply for another permit for this group!

What gall! Apparently, “HIFA trusts the capacity of these departments to exhibit the same common sense and professionalism they have exhibited in the past”. Really? What a bunch of patronising, sanctimonious piffle!

We are further told by HIFA that “other Government ministries and departments are also surprised at the denial of entry”. Curiously, we are not told which these other departments are, most probably because they do not exist. Yes, other Government departments (ZIMRA, the Board of Censors, the National Arts Council, etc) are involved with HIFA, but they are not immigration.

If HIFA is suggesting that all Government departments should not engage with them until immigration permits are issued, then that is what they should say. But who would be the victim of such a prolonged process, if not HIFA? Sometimes, it pays to think before issuing statements against Government departments that have done nothing but assist in good faith in a process that you have initiated.

There are many possible reasons why Freshlyground were denied a visa. They are not a big group, and somehow trying to intimate that there was a political reason for not allowing them into the country is just foolish.

The Government of Zimbabwe will not fall because some misguided idiots got together and formed a group where one of their songs mocks our politicians. Morgan Tsvangirai, Tendai Biti, Nelson Chamisa, Obert Gutu, and their friends at the various MDCs routinely mock our Government day in day out, and they remain free and unmolested, being more at risk from their own hired mobs at Harvest House than they are from the state.

If Tsvangirai, with a proven voting record of getting over a million votes each election, fails to unseat a popular government, why on earth would a foreign group of half-decent singers performing to 4000 or so people somehow be a threat requiring political sanction? This is just foolish. The application failed, and HIFA should seek to find out why, instead of insinuating that there was something underhanded about that refusal.

Just because someone is unsuccessful in an application for entry to a country does not mean that there is politics at play. Immigration officers have a discretion to allow or refuse entry to non-Zimbabweans. Just like in other countries. And this drivel about freedom of expression appears to only apply when used against our government.

When the British government refused Elephant Man a visa to visit the UK because of his “Step pon chi chi man” song, there were no cries about freedom of expression from the same people raising it now. HIFA conveniently seeks to suggest “those artistes from abroad being quoted in some sections of the media as having been banned from certain countries either have criminal records or are informed ahead of time why they are not being permitted into those particular countries”.

Lies lies lies! Such a blanket statement, completely unsourced and unsupported by any evidence. These artistes were informed either upon a decision being made by the immigration official on an application (as happened here), or when visas already issued were being revoked (as happened to Beenie Man in the USA) or were denied entry at the airport into countries where they did not need a visa to enter, as has happened to that vile Holocaust denier David Irving across many countries.

In other words, the timing of the denial of entry, the reasons for the denial of a visa application, are all matters within the discretion of the immigration officials. That discretion was exercised here, legally. If HIFA does not think so, why are they not going to the Administrative Court?

That is the forum to challenge administrative decisions, not issuing statements clothed in vile innuendo and laced with suggestions of dark forces at play.

In international jurisprudence, especially that of the European Convention on Human Rights, there is something called the doctrine of “margin of appreciation”. Simply put, for present purposes it means “in making administrative decisions about entry it not their country, our immigration officials know best”.

It is not for anyone to second guess those decisions simply because they do not like them, or because, as HIFA contends, a “valid application” had been made!

Immigration control is one of the basic functions of a government, and completely within the purview of its discretionary powers. An immigration application is made to the immigration officer and adjudicated upon on its merits. It is adjudicated upon using objective criteria, which recognises that the immigration authorities of each country, the institutions and departments that they run by reason of their direct and continuous contact with the interests of public order, public security, public morality and national interests, are in a better position to decide who is and who is not allowed into our country.

That is based on objective criteria, not common sense. And while there is nothing wrong with the “common sense” and “professionalism” of the immigration department in denying entry to an undesirable foreigner, for whatever reason, HIFA’s statement is in fact a snide dig at the immigration authorities.

Because HIFA is in fact saying that by denying this visa this time, the immigration authorities acted contrary to common sense and in an unprofessional manner. That is false, misleading, nauseating and vile. As they are involved in the arts, I will quote Shakespeare and say: fie for shame, HIFA, fie for shame!

Tinomudaishe Chinyoka is former president: University of Zimbabwe Students Union former president: Zimbabwe National Students Union former secretary-general: University of Zimbabwe Students Union, and PhD student, History of Land Law and Political Science, UK.

Source : The Herald