Home » Arts & Culture » Feeling the Arts Pulse At Hifa [guest column]

HIFA presents fantastic opportunities for spontaneous networking. On May 1, I welcomed the opportunity presented by the Workers’ Day holiday, to go and enjoy the Youth Zone events with my children. Having found a parking spot right in front of the National Art Gallery, I thought of quickly informing Raphael Chikukwa, that I had already confirmed to Bjorn Maes via Facebook that I would be attending the book launch of artistic photographer Calvin Dondo.

Upon entering the National Art Gallery foyer, I found a rare but extremely important event taking place. Foreign and local HIFA artists had been put into groups according to their genres and were marketing themselves to prospective sponsors. I had a brief chat with Cde Fatso of Shoko Festival — a determined young man whom I have seen transforming from being a demagogue to a respected and professional festival organiser.

People like him are the ones that the draft Arts, Culture and Heritage Policy being developed by The Ministry of Sport, Arts and Culture Arts in the arts and culture sector — is encouraging. Doers who make a real positive contribution to the country’s GDP, but also raising the country’s profile as well as creating opportunities for young people to express themselves and get exposure.

Since I was not part of this HIFA networking and marketing programme for artists, I quickly exchanged greetings with Maria Wilson of HIFA, Daniel Maposa of Savanna Arts and Roberta Wagner of the Zimbabwe German Society, before leaving for the HIFA Youth Zone with my children. While my little ones got busy with the many activities at the Youth Zone, I got a chance to congratulate Mr Stephen Chifunyise for having made another HIFA Festival possible.

Very few people know or understand the back and forth meetings, negotiations, concessions and permissions required before a festival becomes reality. Naturally, my discussion with Mr Chifunyise drifted to the complaints I had received from arts and crafts people exhibiting at HIFA, that, City of Harare increased charges for them to sell their wares from $80 last year to $150.

The draft Arts, Culture and Heritage Policy talks about the need to create an enabling environment for arts and culture. Hopefully, the final document will not overlook transforming the challenges faced by artists and craftspeople into opportunities, because Government is encouraging these very same people to participate in promoting and safeguarding Zimbabwean indigenous languages, culture, heritage and Zimbabwean creative arts.

The draft policy document states that the success of the National Arts, Culture and Heritage Policy will depend on the full participation of the Zimbabwean society through public and private institutions. Although the policy document is still being fine-tuned, I am optimistic that it will take and leave us somewhere we have never been before as a people. After chatting with Mr Chifunyise, I got a chance to catch up on some creative writing project with Mr Tinashe Muchuri and also to hear from Elizabeth Muchemwa how the Royal Court Theatre workshop for playwrights that she is part of, is shaping up. I exchanged notes with Muchuri about a paper that was triggered by my ZIBF presentation where I was calling for our folktales to respond to social change and to be relevant to the modern audiences.

Elizabeth informed me that the British Council supported Royal Court theatre programme she is participating in will end with two theatre writers being chosen to be on a longer residence in the UK. I told her that just being given the opportunity to learn on the programme is good for personal development, and she agreed by saying that so far, the programme has been professionally rewarding.

With Tinashe Mushakavanhu, we talked about Novuyo-Rosa Tshuma and creative writing in general. Mushakavanhu is working on a documentary on Zimbabwean writers who write in English. In the spirit of the draft Arts, Culture and Heritage Policy document, efforts by Mushakavanhu need support, and must be extended to Zimbabwean writers writing in Shona like Aaron Chiunduramoyo, T.K Tsodzo, Willie Chigidi and others.

Local language writers are more than writers. They are storytellers, philosophers and custodians of language and indigenous wisdom. The recent death of Sharai Mukonoweshuro is a loss to the nation because we did not document her story while she was still alive. Worse still, we do not know whether she left other stories or indigenous knowledge for the nation.

Although I saw Albert Chimedza of Mbira Centre weaving through the HIFA crowds, it was the other Albert that I got a chance to talk to. Albert Nyathi gave me an update of our collaboration on the forthcoming sequel to his famous poem titled My Daughter. Albert Nyathi is a humble and unassuming man who has not let the fame flame burn his head. The festival also gave me the chance to catch up with two exceptionally talented poets Dakarai Mashava and Tongai Leslie Makawa known as Outspoken in performance poetry circles. Both Mashava and Outspoken told sad stories which are a phenomenon of the creative sector — they have taken a break from being creative. Mashava is now a journalist, while Outspoken is into administration.

My HIFA networking experience was made memorable when my chat with Ramai Mpfunya and John Koetze just outside the Hivos Poetry Cafeacute resulted in me spotting two old friends — Okay Machisa and Chirikure Chirikure. I fought tears as I hugged Chirikure. He is the man who discovered me, and gave me the opportunity to be a published poet in the College Press anthology titled Tipeiwo Dariro. Explaining to Okay Machisa, Chirikure reminded me how he had invited me and other aspiring poets to a radio poetry programme. He said, “Mabasa was in the studio, holding papers with his poetry and he was shaking.” Although I don’t remember all that, what I know is that Chirikure went on to give me another opportunity that defined me as a novelist when he accepted and edited my first Shona novel, Mapenzi.

As I left the HIFA grounds, I joked with Carl Joshua Ncube and promised to send Marian Kunonga an e-mail, at the same time reflecting on the opportunity afforded by HIFA to exchange ideas. I realised that it is not all artists who are in the picture as far as the contents of draft Arts, Culture and Heritage Policy document are concerned.

As Charles Mungoshi says in his novel Waiting for the Rain, they are just content “playing their own drum.” To them, being creative is more eloquent than policy. Policy matters are for those who understand the intimidating and high flying language of creative industries.

This made me think that, the draft Arts, Culture and Heritage Policy document, in the spirit of engaging the very indigenous languages and people it is seeking to promote, should be translated and shared with all stakeholders so that they too are educated about it as well as getting the opportunity to comment — especially on omissions and grey, or even black, areas.

Ignatius Mabasa is a poet, novelist, storyteller, language consultant and translator.

Source : The Herald