The Sunday News
Bruce Ndlovu, Sunday Life Reporter
AMAKHOSI will no longer be called a Cultural Centre, with founder Cont Mhlanga saying the city’s iconic home of the arts will from now onwards be known as Amakhosi Studios, as part of a raft of changes that heralds the coming of Ke Yona TV.
The change of name reflects the constant transformation that Amakhosi has undergone since Mhlanga started hosting young people in his backyard back in Nguboyenja almost four decades ago.
During those days, what would eventually become Amakhosi was still only known as the Dragons Karate Club. Mhlanga’s vision of a cultural centre was still far from conception.
Before that vision could be born, Mhlanga had to take his troops to Stanley Square via Mthwakazi Youth Centre. Zimbabwe is a nation that valued and still values education above all else and so venturing into the arts was still an act of defiance, a gesture of rebellion which meant words like “cultural centre” did not exist in the vocabulary of even the guardians of the arts in the country.
“Amakhosi started off at the backyard of my home. That was the physical space we occupied,” Mhlanga told Sunday Life.
“As more young people got involved, we moved to Mthwakazi Youth Centre. That was very strategic because those youth centres were instrumental in developing talent in the city. I myself am a product of a youth centre, without those young centres there would be no Cont Mhlanga.
We then moved to Stanley Hall and by then our most dominant activity was karate but we started to introduce theatre and later on dance.
“We then moved to the place that we now call Amakhosi Cultural Centre. You’ll notice that when we arrived that the vocabulary of cultural centre was far away from people and even the city administrators when you spoke of a cultural centre they’d be puzzled and ask what you want to do in that place.
So, we decided to call it township square and people understood those two words. It brought in people quickly. When people then became aware of what the word cultural centre meant we then upgraded that to Amakhosi Cultural Centre. We grew even bigger and larger and people were inspired to invest in similar cultural spaces in the city.”
Forty years after young people started exchanging friendly blows in the backyard of his house, Mhlanga’s vision has come full circle.
What was born as Dragons Karate Club, raised as Township Square and groomed as Amakhosi Cultural Centre is now about to be reborn as Amakhosi Studios.
“Now we are moving on to the next level. Now we are part of mainstream TV and film industry. You don’t find cultural centres in the mainstream. In the mainstream you find studios, content production studios. We are killing the name cultural centre and moving on to calling the place Amakhosi Studios. We have arrived where content is produced at a studio.
“The old Amakhosi Cultural Centre is gone. People shouldn’t come there and say ahh it used to be nice here. It was nice because we had not arrived where we intended to be. It was a stepping stone to where we are today. A lot of things are going to change and people need to understand that,” he said.
For decades, film makers, TV producers and other creatives from Bulawayo complained about how doors were shut in their faces, how they felt that they were side-lined even when their work deserved more credit.
In that constant and loud chorus of complaints, Mhlanga’s voice has always been one of the loudest and over the years he has been a thorn on the side of those he feels malign Bulawayo’s creative talent.
Through all the trials and tribulations of the last decade, Mhlanga maintains that his vision has never wavered.
“Having said that you will understand when I say that the vision of Amakhosi has always been one. It has never changed in 40 years. The vision has always been to grow Bulawayo into the content capital of Zimbabwe. It didn’t start with the word content because that word was far removed from people’s vocabularies.
We used the word culture because it was a word that people understood more than the word content. We then defined Bulawayo as the cultural capital of Zimbabwe until it was on everyone’s tongue. We went into communities and identified talent, trained it and put it on stage. We took them on tour around the world and proved that indeed Bulawayo is the cultural capital of Zimbabwe,” he said.
Some might question if Amakhosi still has what it takes to make compelling television content. Indeed, it has been a while since the words “Umkhulu lo Msebenzi” appeared at the end of credits after an episode of a TB show.
Amakhosi’s absence from the small screen has been felt and, according to Mhlanga, it was all deliberate.
“The downside of what we were doing is that it started to create artistes that were very skilled, artistes that needed to move to the next level which was content creation. You create content and you bring it to broadcast platforms. You saw us as we got into radio and people followed us as we went into TV. We had graduated from community theatre and we were moving into the content industry.
“We were happy that we were laying down the word cultural capital and moving on to the word content capital. However, you will notice that it didn’t work because we had one broadcaster and it became difficult to envision Amakhosi as a mainstream media player.
That stifled Amakhosi’s growth in a big way and we decided at some point that maybe we should shut down everything because there was no point in going in circles and trying to develop people when we knew that there was no conveyor belt that was going to make them bankable or improve the economy of the city.
At that time people would understand why we shut down but perhaps now they will gain a better understanding of that decision,” he said.
At the cusp of the realisation of his dream, Mhlanga believes the worlds “cultural capital of the country” will cease to be just another catchphrase used by artistes in the city with the coming of Ke Yona. Instead, he envisions a city completely transformed by the station.
“An economy is something that can be so simple. An entire city’s economy can revolve around one product and it grows into an amazing economy. Just one product, whether its coal, diamonds or education. This is why we have Silicon Valley. Bulawayo is a heritage city and its product needs to be given a TV channel.
That channel needs to be treated as a product that belongs to the city. Finally, we have a product that is a TV station in a heritage and cultural city. That alone can change the fortunes of the economy of the City of Bulawayo,” he expressed.
As he starts shaping Ke Yona into his vision, Mhlanga is eager to warn content creators that might want to bring their products to the station at the 11th hour.
“For those that want to be part of Ke Yona, the timeline is very important. For those that are waiting for the station to be on air in 2022, that would be too late. If anyone out there, the year is 2021. When we open in January it will be about canning content. It will be about create as much content as possible for the time we go on air.
People must read newspapers and be connected to entertainment journalists because then they will know what is being auditioned every Wednesday. This is going in the first half of the year. After that it is about filming, editing and post-production.
All pre-production would have been done and complete and when you’re left out you’ve been left out. It will be very difficult to come in because Ke Yona is harnessing young people and putting them on the frontline and putting together exciting content that is designed to make Bulawayo the content capital of Zimbabwe,” he said.
The Ke Yona train, Mhlanga insists, is about to leave the station. Once it is on track, it would not take a breather to accommodate those that do not believe that, 40 years after he conceived it, Mhlanga’s dream is about to come true.
“Our first season will run for the first six months of 2022 and each season will have a specific theme. It is important to notify people that they cannot just bring something of theirs that is already complete. If you didn’t create it for Ke Yona, don’t bring it to Ke Yona because it might not fit into the strategic content design of that particular season. You will have to wait until the relevant season comes.
Now we are working on our first season and that season is meant to start Bulawayo on its journey of being the content capital of the country,” he said.