Mthabisi Tshuma, Showbiz Reporter
October was a very special month in Gwanda as the mining town would host the Gwanda Gospel Music Festival, later rebranded to Gwanda International Gospel Music Festival.
A brainchild of South Africa-based Gwanda businessman Justice Maphosa through his Big Time Strategic Group, the event was inspired by the need for a spiritual gathering for the nation.
This festival launched in 2015 undoubtedly put Gwanda on the map as it attracted artistes and attendees from across the region in the four years that it was held.
It was more than just a festival as it also served as a platform for business players to network at the various meetings that were held concurrently with the event.
As a result of the hosting of the event, its venue, Phelandaba Stadium got a major uplift as well as surrounding areas.
Suburbs like Jahunda, Geneva, Phakama, Spitzkop North, Spitzkop North Extension, Ultra High, Garikari and Jacaranda, as well as Gwanda CBD and even nearby places like Collen Bawn, West Nicholson and Stanmore came to a standstill each October as thousands of people gathered to see the crème de la crème of artistes performing at Phelandaba Stadium.
It is not only Gwanda that got busy during the festival, but Bulawayo as well, especially Rainbow Hotel where guests would stay and have meetings.
Not segregating, the festival was indeed a family affair as young children accompanied their parents to the show which was always free.
Attending the event, one would swear that the whole Gwanda town was in the stadium as it was always packed to the rafters.
The event always drew attention from its preparative stages as several haulage trucks from South Africa would make their way to the country carrying stage equipment.
And indeed, in the four years that the event was held, it had a world class stage that made it stand out. The stage was always complemented with a good sound system and lighting that definitely attracted many.
Fireworks towards the end of the show were the cherry on top.
As for the performances, one can simply say they were so powerful that they put nightclubs in Gwanda out of business as patrons opted to attend the festival.
The artistes always gave it their all with locals such as Knowledge Nkiwane having been given a platform to shine.
Other artistes who graced the event include Takesure Zamar, Deborah Fraser, Hlengiwe Mhlaba, Rebecca Malope, Mathias Mhere and the late Oliver Mtukudzi.
The marathon festival that traditionally was held over three days starting on Friday and ending with a church service on Sunday, up to today, remains touted as one of the finest gospel shows in the country and region.
Its organiser, Maphosa is a man who guarded the festival jealously, refusing to bow down to pressure to have the event staged in different cities.
“We guard the Gwanda Gospel Festival very jealously. It’ll never go anywhere and I’ve discussed this with the Ministry of Tourism and the National Arts Council of Zimbabwe.
We want it to be an annual event in Gwanda so that people there benefit from the hosting of the event,” Maphosa was quoted saying at one point.
The event that was last staged in 2019 is certainly missed by many but due to the Covid-19 pandemic, organisers are not able to host the event.
Chronicle Showbiz caught up with Big Time Strategic Group representative Lungile Masetlo who said they had hopes to host the event this year, but due to the ongoing battle with Covid-19, they could not.
“Initially, we had plans to host the event this year, but as per the situation on the ground where the Covid-19 lockdown restrictions aren’t allowing such big gatherings, we had to shelve the festival.
“We still have our hopes high though that come next year, if the situation normalises, we’ll once again revive and celebrate God with the return of the festival,” said Masetlo.
A recent visit to Gwanda by this news crew showed that residents have been left in a lonely hole following the suspension of this event.
Said Sithokozile Moyo: “The pandemic has really affected us and derailed the growth of the mining town. We had become used to having fun with events such as the Gwanda Gospel Festival, but now, we’re starved of such entertainment.”
Restaurant operator Thandazani Ndlovu said he misses the event as they made good sales during that period.
“We were used to having an increase in sales in the month of October giving us a needed boost ahead of the festive season.
But now, due to the pandemic, the festival hasn’t been held for the past two years which has been a huge blow.
“We hope that things will change going forward and the festival returns,” said Ndlovu. – @mthabisi_mthire.