The Sunday News
Bruce Ndlovu, Sunday Life Reporter
SINCE its earliest days at Stanley Hall and Stanley Square, before it moved to 15506 Masotsha Ndlovu Avenue, Lady Stanley Street, Bulawayo, right at the edge of Bulawayo’s oldest township, Amakhosi Cultural Centre has always been synonymous with Makokoba.
Simply put, Amakhosi’s umbilical cord seems to have buried in the famous township and since the 80s it has not moved away from the shadow of its place of birth. Not that it has tried to. Amakhosi has always seemed very much at home in its neat little corner tucked right at the edge of a township that has given birth to countless number of stars.
But times change and Amakhosi for the last few years has not been what it used to be. For the last few years, at least, premier talent was no longer flocking through the gates of Amakhosi. Makokoba’s finest were now finding a welcoming home everywhere else other than their doorstep, with many mushrooming groups a eager to give a warm embrace to talent from Makokoba and even beyond the city’s erstwhile township.
In search of a new lease of life, Amakhosi founder and Bulawayo Arts godfather Cont Mhlanga has also set his eyes beyond Makokoba. Mhlanga, who this year made a semi comeback from retirement, promising a whole raft of changes at the centre in the process, told Sunday Life that the cultural centre was eying talent from around the city through the establishment of community centres around the city. Two such centres, at McDonald Hall in Mzilikazi and Mgiqika Primary School in Nketa 9 are already operational.
“So in Mzilikazi and Nketa we recruited 55 marvelous young people in various fields that range from theatre, music, to Deejaying and modeling and made them a part of our training programme. So while they’re training under Amakhosi they’ll be doing so within their own communities and they’ll also be constant interactions between the trainees and the communities from which they come from
“So as we said earlier when we were launching the Amakhosi Theatre Unit, we’re working on developing communities venues that will be affiliated with Amakhosi around the city. Of the 30 that we had targeted, so far we have only managed to commission two which are at McDonalds Hall and one in Nketa which services the theatre needs of two people in Nketa 7 and 9. In Nketa they chose Mgiqika Primary School as they preferred centre of operations,” said Mhlanga.
In March when Mhlanga commissioned Amakhosi’s Theatre Unit 12 years after its last production, he had promised that the centre would relaunch with a historical production about the life of Queen Lozikeyi. However, after a few stumbling blocks with the script writing of the epic musical, Mhlanga switched focus to Nansi Lendoda, a 1985 Amakhosi production, starring Mhlanga himself that premiered last month by the centre’s new generation of stars.
“We couldn’t go through with the musical that we had initially planned. There were some issues with one of our writers so instead we decided that we would open the new Amakhosi with Nansi Lendoda, an Amakhosi production from 1985. I remember that as one of our biggest plays in the early stages of Amakhosi and I was an actor back then.
“So our Repertory Theatre premiered a remake of this play at McDonald Hall early last month and I attended that premiere and since I was happy with what I saw I gave them my seal of approval. On the 20th of July they had their first paid performance at McDonald Hall and it was amazing,” he said.
Mhlanga said the drive to take Amakhosi beyond Makokoba was intentional.
“The new strategy is all about bringing back vibrancy to Amakhosi Cultural Centre and that vibrancy can only come from the community around Bulawayo. So the new thrust of Amakhosi is to look beyond Makokoba. Our strategy is called the Asset Based Community Development concept and under it we’re going around Bulawayo looking at its tangible and intangible assets.
“Under its tangible assets we’re looking at the community halls, the libraries and other physical places while under its intangible assets we would group its young people and their talent. So we now want to harness all of that and pour into Amakhosi Cultural Centre which is the mother of all these projects taking place around the city,” he said.
As Mhlanga supervises renovations at Amakhosi, which is set to officially reopen its doors in November, a number of local, regional and international projects are on the pipeline.
The cultural centre is set to join hands with Theatre in the Park in a blockbuster project featuring actors from around the country while a Polish theatre practitioner is also set to orchestrate another project in August. In addition, former Amakhosi products Pedzisai Sithole and Loveness Wedza are also to set to combine with the centre for projects that are set to span several countries.
“Amakhosi has produced a lot of stars in a lot of fields and so we’re now touching base with all these people who are now all over the world and they’re helping us take our products international. We’ve given Pedzisai Sithole the rights to translate Nansi Lendoda to SiSwati and he will do so with his production house in that country.
“So while we’re doing our thing this side they will be rehearsing the production with all Swati cast and then they will tour around that country and the region before bringing it to Bulawayo. We will also work with Loveness Wedza who is in the US that will go from Scandinavia to other parts of Europe and Canada where she’s based,” he said.