Umoja deportations: We are shooting ourselves in the foot


THE HOT topic in arts circles this week has been the shock deportation of 44 visitors many of whom were minors coming for a cultural programme of Umoja The Flying Carpet from 3 countries.

The participants were from South Africa, Mozambique and Norway — who I understand are also major funders of the programme.

It’s interesting to note that some people, media included confused this project with the South African musical Umoja The Spirit of Togetherness produced by renowned artiste and director Thembi Nyandeni and others.

Umoja Cultural Flying Carpet is a programme working for peace and development of society through international cultural collaboration.

The programme works with young people aged between 16 and 26 years and brings young artistes from various nationalities together in cultural camps so that they could create together.

Last week, Zimbabwe’s turn to host the programme ended in tears, finger pointing, politicking and hefty financial losses after the participants were turned away because they allegedly failed to meet Zimbabwe’s immigration laws, one of which was to produce police clearances.

As a travelling artiste myself it has been hard to swallow this bitter pill.

I feel for these young people and I am very sure they are traumatised. The whole week on my international tour I have had to answer media questions on my view on this sad chapter in our arts industry and it is only proper for me to add my voice to the many that have already vented their feelings.

This was no good souvenir for these visiting young people to take away from our country.

For a country that is trying to boost its struggling creative sector, I think we continue to shoot down good efforts to build it.

The question remains, how on earth did more than 40 people deliberately ignore a requirement that was communicated to them as prerequisite for their entry into the country? Is that not evidence enough that these were honest people who had no sinister intention to deliberately go against the laws of our country?

We and our various authorities included seem to pride ourselves in how many shows we are able to stop from going on, projects we are able to bring to a halt and artistes we are able to turn away at our various airports.

As khulu Cont Mhlanga put it in his press release earlier this week, instead of facilitating solutions we would rather express our power by stopping good projects from happening.

I believe this Umoja saga was badly managed and this was a crisis that could have been solved without such disastrous results.

I think instead of trying to find solutions those in power flexed their muscles and showed each other who has more power. Surely the immigration authorities, organisers of Umoja, the Arts and Culture ministry and our Arts Council could have solved this without hurting innocent souls who judging by their ages had waited for so long to be part of this programme and looked forward to it.

When elephant bulls fight, it’s the grass that suffers.

Having said that recent events in the creative industry indicate that we need to do more to improve the movement of visiting artistes in and around our country.

At one international conference recently I really felt embarrassed when my motherland Zimbabwe was fingered as one of the most difficult countries for visiting artistes in terms of requirements to enter and to tour within our borders.

I hop from one country to another abroad and tour for over five months each year, but I have not seen the same done by international artistes in my country of birth.

I have invited theatre groups, music groups, directors and promoters to Zimbabwe and no sooner than we start to put requirements together that we realise it’s actually better not to do it at all.

This red tape must go. It is not doing the creative industry any good.

I agree with Raisedon Baya who insists that cultural mobility into Zimbabwe is under serious threat and that the requirements to clear visiting cultural workers into the country has become unsustainable for promoters and local event organisers.

Fact. It’s high time stakeholders in the creative sector did something.

Arts and Culture ministry, The National Arts Council, Immigration, Zimra, artistes and others cannot continue to bury their heads in the sand playing the blame game.

We are not against laws of the country and immigration into Zimbabwe. Even countries we visit as cultural workers have their own.

We, however, call for transparency and consistence in the application of these laws. Let us not take our visitors by surprise.

I would rather they knew they would not be allowed into the country well before they left their countries of origin. Maybe it’s high time the Zimbabwean visa is issued only at embassies in the various countries all over the world.

That way we can be sure visiting artistes fulfil requirements before they even fly here. We did not need to crush a mosquito with a hammer.

This will come back to haunt us. The creative sector is injured already. Keep walking!

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