Reflecting on Africa

When Proto-type was first invited to participate in HIFA in Zimbabwe, a number of people raised concerns about the trip. Some concerns were about our safety: the news from Zimbabwe is, more often than not, about the unstable situation in the country and many friends, colleagues (and employers) worried that we would be putting ourselves in danger. Others worried that there might a moral issue with going to Zimbabwe as it might be seen to be supporting a regime which has, by all accounts, been fairly destructive to the well-being of the nation’s infrastructure, economy, cultural life and social systems. Some worried about health-related issues; would we have access to appropriate and safe medical care if something went wrong?

These concerns were very real and those who expressed them to us had our best interests at heart. In thinking about whether to go or not, we undertook a fair amount of research to try and make a decision about whether or not it was safe and moral for us to attend the festival. I’m really glad that the research we did helped us to understand the nuance of the situation in Zimbabwe so that we could make an informed decision not based on any hype. We read a very good travel guide by Bradt which addressed each of the issues we had concerns about in terms that turned out to be very accurate. We also spoke to people who had been to the festival before, consulted with the British Council, read the hundreds of articles online about recent changes in Zimbabwe, read reviews of the festival and spoke to our GPs. Each of us also consulted with our loved ones to debate the issues and think things through.

In the end, obviously, we decided that it was safe to go and it was also morally right to go. The safety issue was easy to unpick as it became quite clear that the festival was well organized and had a large enough infrastructure (and impact economically) that it would protect us to some extent from any dangers that we might otherwise experience (and this proved to be true when we were there). The moral issue really came down to an argument that company member Gillian Lees articulated well when she said that we would not be supporting any regime by going, but instead participating in a dialogue with artists and people who might be impacted by the work we were making. If anything, this argument goes, by going we were serving a kind of moral imperative by participating in a dialogue with local (and international) artists and audiences about our shared values.

I’m really glad that we went – not only because it was an incredibly rewarding trip personally and artistically, but also because it has challenged some of the fears I had about travelling as a gay man to an African country. I found that I was surprised by how little of an issue it seemed to be (at least within the context of the festival). I also got to see some amazing wildlife up close and personal and I met some really amazing people – including a company of lovely artists from South Africa, an academic/writer from Harare who lives between Zimbabwe and Leicester in the UK, a couple who have lived in Harare for many decades and who gave us a unique perspective on what it has been like to live in Zim through the various changes.

I feel lucky to have been invited to go to this festival and even luckier to have had the British Council supporting our work. I don’t think I would ever have been able to make it to Zimbabwe on my own (not on my current ‘salary’ at least) and I certainly wouldn’t have had the rich platform with which to meet people that performing a show provides. Although I am exhausted and behind on just about everything as a result of the trip I feel alive to the incredibly complexities of the world we live in and grateful to be in the lucky position of being a working artist. Sometimes doing what I do feels like hard work and I want to give up. Just as those moments creep in, something like a trip to HIFA crops up to provide the antidote I need.

Here are a few reviews of the show from local press:

And these are images that someone took of the show:

Here is a little gallery of images from my trip – some of these are from Kevin Egan (who performed in the show with Gillian since Wes couldn’t make it):


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