The Southern African Development Community made up of twelve countries in the southern tip of Africa has had political and economic success as a block. But it has failed to sustain the first ever arts and culture festival that was started in the early 1990s.
Initiated by the Sadc Sector of Culture and Information, the festival sought to promote cultural industries, exploit capabilities to alleviate poverty, generate employment, contribute to economic growth and build the region's community. The people would appreciate their common origin and celebrate the region's rich cultural diversity. Besides becoming a major tourist attraction, artists were expected to form partnerships for viable international arts tours.
The first event – a music festival – which was held in Harare in 1995, brought together musicians some of whom later formed a regional coalition known as Mahube. The second festival – a theatre event - took place in Maputo, Mozambique in 1997 and it spawned the Southern Africa Theatre Initiative that brings together the region's theatre practitioners. In 2000 an arts and crafts festival was held in Namibia, a dance festival took place in Harare in 2001 and South Africa hosted a multi-disciplinary festival in 2003.
Despite their measured successes, the festivals failed to attract an audience from the region and were attended by mostly artists and the host country's residents. Hosting governments felt it was a burden to feed and accommodate artistes and to provide infrastructure for the weeklong event. Botswana was supposed to hold the next festival but has not done so and no other country has come forward with an offer to host the festival.
Former permanent secretary in the Ministry of Education, Sports and Culture in Zimbabwe Stephen Chifunyise who sat on the organizing committee of the Sadc Arts and Culture Festival says governments' lack of commitment and poor infrastructure in some Sadc member states failed the idea. He also says after the multi-disciplinary festival held in South Africa, various organizations within member countries initiated national festivals with the help of donors thereby 'killing' the Sadc initiative.
"There was a lot of bureaucracy in the running of the festival because it was placed under the ministries of education or culture with the national arts councils playing the role of selecting artists," says Chifunyise who is now an arts consultant. "Because of this the festivals were held irregularly, were inadequately funded and they became low key events", he explains.