Sukulwenkosi Dube-Matutu, Gwanda Correspondent
AT this time of the year, Gwanda residents will be preparing to attend the Gwanda International Gospel Festival (GIGF) which is usually held in September at the Phelandaba Stadium.

By this time, the event organisers would have announced the dates and the complete line-up of artistes, leaving residents with great excitement as the show is free of charge.

Touted as one of the finest gospel shows in the country and region, the festival was supposed to be in its sixth edition this year, but alas, due to the Covid-19 pandemic that is causing havoc worldwide, it will not be staged.

Over the years, the festival that is hosted by South Africa-based Gwanda-born businessman Justice Maphosa through his Big Time Strategic Group, has brought a sense of pride to residents of the mining town as they boast of hosting such a prestigious event.

From moving lights on stage, preview monitors and projector screens, transparent stage decks, hazers and smoke machines as well as a powerful sound system — the undisputed glitzy and glamorous festival had become the pride of the host town. Not forgetting the top class entertainment from renowned gospel artistes from the region and country who grace the festival each year.

The event had turned Gwanda into an altar of God where people from all walks of life, would gather annually to seek the face of the Lord. It would start on a Friday and end on a Sunday with a church service.

Sadly, the event will not be staged this year and enthusiasts are disappointed that they will miss out on the spirit-filled event.

Fellunah Mswere, a Gwanda resident said she will miss the world-class performances.

“I started attending the festival two years back and I told myself that I’d never miss any edition. The festival always has great artistes, both regionally and locally. These are artises that some of us would probably never get to see performing live on an ordinary day, but the Gwanda Gospel Festival awarded us that opportunity.

“The artistes never disappoint as they always give us top-notch performances. Can you imagine getting such an experience without paying a cent?

“The sermons that are delivered at the festival leave us spiritually revived. The atmosphere of praise, worship and thanksgiving which fills the stadium is out of this world. I also got to see talented Gwanda-based gospel groups performing at the festival which left me pleased by the level of talent we have in our town. The experience makes you forget that you are in the small town of Gwanda,” Mswere said.

She added that the festival’s stage and entire set up on its own, was a sight to be marvelled adding that she is disappointed that she and her family will be missing out on the action as they took great pleasure in attending it.

A senior resident from Gwanda, Rido Mpofu said it was delightful to see such a peaceful and prestigious event being held each year in Gwanda. He said when the festival was introduced five years ago, it brought so much excitement as people never expected such a prestigious event to be hosted in a small town.

He said he has attended all five editions adding that the artistes’ line-up each year, has been magnificent as the performances catered for all age groups.

“Spiritually, there’ll be a huge gap in our town as we won’t be having the Gwanda Gospel Festival. In the history of Gwanda, we’ve never had such a big event being hosted by a small town like ours. It’s pleasing that this event is sponsored by one of our own children which shows the importance of investing in your home town.

“Since the festival started, I’ve never missed an edition. It’s good to see such a peaceful event where people can gather as families to worship the Lord. The event is always well organised and each year, there’ll be a variety of artistes who’ll be catering for all age groups. Indeed this year I’ll miss attending the festival. During this time, we’d have been eagerly waiting for the event as the dates and line-up would have been announced,” he said.

Mpofu said the festival was also an opportunity for local businesses to meet with investors. He said several businesspeople from South Africa who attended the festival over the years, showed interest in investing in the mining sector in the town.

Adrian Drivo Musa, chairperson of Savuka Arts Association in Matabeleland South said the entertainment industry was one of the worst affected because of the Covid-19 pandemic. He said the Gwanda International Gospel Festival brought life to the entertainment industry within the Gwanda community, Matabeleland South as a province and the nation at large.

Musa said the festival was also a great platform for Gwanda-based artistes to showcase their talent and establish links with renowned artistes adding that the festival also inspired youngsters wishing to venture into the entertainment industry.

“Local artistes got a chance to rub shoulders and share the stage with renowned artistes in Africa through the festival. They also got an opportunity to showcase their talent to the rest of the world through the festival.

“Some artistes have secured links and networks through that platform,” he said.

Besides it being beneficial to artistes, Musa went on to say the festival significantly contributed to various sectors in the mining town.

“Those into accommodation would benefit due to the influx of guests coming into Gwanda for the festival thereby boosting their business. Catering companies had to provide food and beverages to the thousands of fans who would throng Phelandaba Stadium for the festival.”

He said it is sad that the festival will not be held this year due to Covid-19.

“The festival had become a part of our life. Whenever we’d get to August, the festival fever would automatically fill the town as it’ll be the main thing which people would be talking about,” Musa said.

Artistes that performed at last year’s festival include Swaziland’s Timothy Ncandweni and Shongwe with his Khuphuka Saved Group, Sipho Makhabane, Takesure Zamar, Vocal Ex, Mathias Mhere and Indosakusa; The Morning Star. Denzel the Pianist from Cape Town, Mkhululi Bhebhe, Joyful Praise from Gweru, Hybrid Sounds from Gwanda and Harvest Music Super Choir from Bulawayo were also part of the fete.

Event organiser, Maphosa who is known for his generosity in giving back to the community, recently said funds meant for holding this year’s festival would go towards assisting the vulnerable and the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic. — @DubeMatutu