On May 5, 2014, the South African band Freshly Ground was barred from performing at the Harare International Festival of the Arts (HIFA).
Freshly Ground is one of South Africa’s most internationally renowned bands and have taken their brand of energetic Afro-fusion music all over the world. They have performed in Zimbabwe before, including at HIFA, but ever since the 2010 release of their controversial track ‘Chicken to Change’ they have been barred from performing in the country.
The song pokes fun at Zimbabwe’s President, Robert Mugabe, saying he used to be a hero but has betrayed his people and is too afraid to step down and let change take place in the country. The video to the song depicts a comical caricature of Mugabe.
Freshly Ground were meant to perform at one of the festival’s biggest and most anticipated shows, the official closing concert, to an audience of over 5,000 people. They arrived in Zimbabwe on schedule but were denied entry and had to catch the next flight back to South Africa.
Hivos is one of the biggest partners of the HIFA and has a strong relationship with the festival because of how the festival continues to create platforms for Zimbabwean artists to express themselves and highlight pertinent issues in the country. The festival also creates opportunities for Zimbabwean artists to collaborate with international and regional acts, such as Freshly Ground.
Over 50,000 people attend the six-day festival, which has been named as one of the top 7 musical festivals in Africa by CNN.
In a press release upon returning to South Africa, Freshly Ground said, “The government officials involved refused to give a reason for the deportment, saying in fact that there is ‘no official reason given or required’. Both the HIFA organisers and the band had followed all requisite permit requirements, and indication prior to this was that the band would be allowed to perform in the country. It would seem the powers that be have yet to find a sense of humour.”