After producing some of the country’s most renowned artistes since its conception in 1982, there are fears that the revered Amakhosi Centre seems to be on an accelerated decline, with hardly anything noteworthy that has come from within its renowned walls over the last few years.
Regarded as the Mecca of the arts in Bulawayo, Amakhosi was for years a trusted conveyor belt of talent on the local arts scene, with some of Zimbabwe’s top artistes cutting their teeth at the famed cultural centre.
Dudu Manhenga, Beater Mangethe, Raisedon Baya, Memory Kumbota, Clive Chigubhu and Sandra Ndebele are just some of the names that have walked the halls of Amakhosi, horning skills that were to give them fame later on in their careers.
Known as much for the stars it produces as it is for its stellar productions, Amakhosi’s output has been reduced to a trickle over the last few years, something worsened by the retirement of its founder and guardian, Cont Mhlanga.
Despite standing on a piece of land donated for cultural activities on a 100-year lease by the city fathers, activity at Amakhosi now comes from people looking to board buses plying the Victoria Falls-Harare routes.
For the past few years, the place noted as nursery for talented Bulawayo artistes has virtually become a bus terminus. At first, it was regarded as illegal by Mhlanga, who was still at the helm when the bus operators first set up shop.
“Over the years a number of travellers have been mugged as they sought transport and most of them sought refuge at Amakhosi,” Mhlanga told Sunday News in 2011.
“Each time that happened Amakhosi was forced to help them get assistance from Mpilo Central Hospital and since that illegal rank was referred to as Amakhosi, all those who were mugged went around saying they had been mugged at Amakhosi and that tarnished the reputation of my institution.”
At the time, Mhlanga said he had written to the city fathers, pleading with them to legalise the rank.
“The last straw that made me decide to accommodate public transport operators occurred when a Congo national came to Amakhosi at night. He had three knife wounds and that made me realise that if I don’t act quickly somebody might get killed. So I wrote to the council, the police and the public transport operators and I’m glad they responded positively. The council is in the process of regularising the rank and they gave me a temporary waiver to accommodate the public transport operators,” Mhlanga said.
Fast forward seven years later, and the buses, not artistes, are now Amakhosi’s most frequent visitors. In fact, the public transport operators seemed to be a necessity rather than a nuisance.
“Like any other organisation, we have bills to pay and the bus terminus is meant to help us sustain the centre,” the man who took over from Mhlanga after he left Amakhosi, Thulani “Mbambo” Khumalo told the media in 2016.
In the last few years, Amakhosi has become a mere spectator on the city’s arts scene, with few noteworthy productions coming from Amakhosi.
Most arts enthusiasts had pinned their hopes on the coming of Skyz Metro as a sign that the good times beckoned again at Amakhosi, but the station relocated from the centre to a more central location.
In April last year at the commissioning of the Skyz Metro studios, the station’s CEO Qhubani Moyo had said the infrastructure installed at Amakhosi would not be dismantled but put to good use.
“We want to make sure that the studios that we had already constructed at Amakhosi are put to good use by artistes. Over and above that our artistes should not be seen as entertainers of the day that go on to die poor. We want to be a channel that help artistes monetise and commercialise their craft,” he said.
A year later, no song from Amakhosi’s expensively built studios has made an impact on the airwaves.
When Sunday Life tried to get in touch with Mbambo a fortnight ago to outline the centre’s programmes for the year, he said that he was out of town and therefore plagued by poor network.
This week, he said he would be available to talk when he returned to Bulawayo on 16 May before ignoring all subsequent messages.