It's Monday night and Babongile Sikhonjwa is the master of ceremony.
The occasion is the NAMA awards fundraising cocktail at the Holiday Inn in Bulawayo and you get nervous when he does his thing, but he has sardonic wit and by now, he is the go-to guy in terms of showbiz impresarios and comperes in Zimbabwe.
Well, he has the uncanny ability to poke fun at very big boys and girls without alienating them.
Tonight, though being a Monday, the guests look altogether well turned out as far as dress is concerned, and a tad too casual depending on whom you are looking at. Of course, the ladies always dress up at such occasions.
Yes indeed, NAMA is being held koBulawayo for the first time since the awards' inception about 13 years ago. Much is riding on the success of the event. Where Harare has moneybags galore, Bulawayo makes up for it with heart and passion. This is not to say that money is not required. Looking at the list of sponsors, one can see that quite easily, it is but "a coalition of the willing", to borrow from former American President George W. Bush's lexicon, that intends to deliver this event successfully.
Significantly, Bulawayo City Council has wretchedly failed to come to the party, insisting on payment for the use of the Large City Hall to host a national event of such strategic importance. For a city that claims to be marginalised, was not this a golden chance for the leadership to show magnanimity toward its own artists by uniting with them to demonstrate that indeed Bulawayo has big match temperament and that they are stakeholders in the success of cultural initiatives in the city?
"I cannot speak to you about the full decision off the cuff. I am yet to look at the minutes of the meeting. But a decision was made at a full council meeting which said because of the position of the council at the moment in terms of finances, we cannot give the venue for free," said Nesisa Mpofu, the public relations manager of Bulawayo City Council, when asked for a comment.
Jomo Mhone, the CEO of Event Africa/ Providence Sound Systems told The Financial Gazette's Weekend: "We invited the city fathers to come on board right from the start fearing a situation where they would say that we were left behind. But they are maintenance minded. They are not visionary in their outlook.
They could have called us for an interview to hear us out but what do they do? They make a decision based on a letter which we wrote to them. Isn't this an opportunity which has potential tourism benefits for the City? Isn't this an opportunity to showcase the talent, the infrastructure for potential investors lying idle in the city?"
Yes, the venue is now secure and fully paid for.
"We have fully paid the US$4 800 they wanted, we have the receipts....," joked Babongile bitingly while regaling the guests at the cocktail.
Our artists have come of age though. They have class and intelligence. It's not too late for the city fathers to do the right thing because as with such events, and in Bulawayo's case, marked by scepticism, there is a tendency for sponsors to sit on the fence or simply be apathetic. My advice to the city fathers is to reverse a bad decision because failure will reflect badly on all of us in this city... With or without the nay Sayers, I have a good feeling about the progress of our cultural industries here in Bulawayo for if the fundraising cocktail is anything to go by, then the night of the 16th of February will not merely be another valentine night but a night of a hundred brilliant stars illuminating this southern sky.