THE ongoing Harare International Festival of the Arts (HIFA) suffered a setback Sunday after immigration officials deported South African afro-soul group Freshlyground, the main act at this year's event.
Freshlyground were kicked out immediately after landing at the Harare International Airport Sunday afternoon after being refused clearance to perform by the authorities.
The deportation followed a spirited campaign to block the group with pro-Zanu PF columnists in State-run newspapers accusing HIFA of engaging in deliberate political mischief by inviting them.
HIFA confirmed the group had been forced out of the country.
"Freshlyground arrived at Harare International Airport but will not be performing at HIFA this year," organisers said in a statement.
"However, there is a special closing show that will be on Main Stage at 9pm comprised of various HIFA artists. These include, Jamaram, Jah Prayzah, Jo Laurie, Maneli Jamal, Acoustic Nights All Stars"
"Holders of Freshlyground tickets will be able to access this show. Those not wanting to access this show can get a refund at the HIFA box offices from Monday 5 May from 11 am to 8pm. HIFA sincerely regrets any inconveniences caused."
Freshlyground & ZANEWS - Chicken to Change
The group attracted the wrath of President Robert Mugabe's supporters after producing a song mocking the aged Zimbabwean leader for alleged human rights abuses and telling him to "change".
HIFA organisers spent the better part of the weekend seeking clearance for the band, but talks collapsed when the group jetted into the country before an agreement had been reached.
Hifa executive director Maria Wilson is believed to have pleaded with officials from the Ministry of Information, Media and Broadcasting Services to intervene but was advised to approach the Ministry of Sports, Arts and Culture.
In 2010, Freshlyground released the song 'Chicken to Change' backed by video depicting Mugabe as a frail and urging him to "Chinja" in apparent reference to the opposition MDC-T's party slogan.
The same year, the group was forced to cancel a performance in Harare after the immigration department turned down their application for work permits.
Authorities are said to have been dismayed by HIFA's decision to invite Freshly Ground, accusing the group of using their music to advance political goals.