The Sunday News
Bruce Ndlovu, Sunday Life Reporter
AS he stood on the podium at the burial of Cont Mhlanga last Saturday, tiny drops of sweat ran down the face of National Arts Council of Zimbabwe (NACZ) director, Nicholas Moyo.
Perhaps it was pressure from the watching eyes of mourners who encircled him, hanging onto his every word, as if they wanted him to tell them that on the sixth day since his death, Cont would rise again.
Or perhaps it was the fire, strategically placed in the middle of the gathering, that brought about the rivulets of sweat on Moyo’s fire. The fire had been lit the previous night, and even though temperatures in Lupane soared as if the sky in this northern part of Matabeleland had never known winter, it had not been put out by midday.
However, even as he sweated in the oppressive heat, Moyo poised a very important question. It was the kind of question Mhlanga himself would have asked it he was alive.
“The challenge that Cont has now left for us, is one for legacy. I heard yesterday, his family announcing that there would be a foundation. One important thing that now that Cont has passed away, what next about Amakhosi? This is a question that we have to ask ourselves. It’s a big question that as a sector we have to tackle. We must rise up and advise each other. That’s the challenge that I have as I stand in front of you all,” he said.
The previous day during his memorial, as the arts doyen was taken to Amakhosi for the last time, a family representative had spoken about the undying love that he had for the centre.
“We were supposed to go to the Amphitheatre but we ended up coming here. If you look around you, there are trees right next to wherever you stand. This is because this was a place that he wanted to make beautiful, a place that he really loved. Those close to him, and those that worked with him, loved this place dearly,” the family rep said.
Over the last few years, there have been concerns about the direction that the cultural centre has been taking. What used to be the cultural heartbeat of the city’s arts scene, simply does not have the buzz that it used to. Concerns were initially in 2017 when the Mecca of the arts in Bulawayo seemed to have welcomed bus operators, allowing them freedom to use it as a rank.
At his death Mhlanga was in a state of semi-retirement, retreating to rural life in his later years and in his absence the centre seemed to have forgotten how to make stars despite the fact that it is still widely respected in the arts.
“I think umdala was an intelligent man that knew that he had to build a legacy that would outlive him because that’s what everyone wants and that’s what everyone dreams of,” said Raisedon Baya.
“So, we believe that he did that and built something that outlived him. We are praying that, now what he is gone, the centre and all that he stood for will not follow him. We want to see more of Amakhosi and we want to see it as what he dreamt it to be. We want it to be a unifier, a platform to launch new careers and a platform to celebrate Bulawayo and its diversity. It is our hope that those left behind to make sure that the legacy continue will make sure it does so.
We hope that the creative supports them and I say this because there’s no way that anyone can wish away Amakhosi. There are a backbone of the creative sector and they need to be supported both resource wise and morally to make sure that it stands its ground.”
After the birth Skyz Metro, and later Ke Yona, Mhlanga said that the cultural centre had transitioned into Amakhosi Studios, as it focused on TV and radio. These two mediums were expected to breathe new life into the institution. However, with Mhlanga gone, some doubt if the centre will still provide a reliable conveyor belt of content and talent to keep the TV station in particular thriving.
Dr Qhubani Moyo of Fairtalk Communications said they would work together whoever would eventually take over at Amakhosi.
“Mhlanga had extraordinary talent and an unparalleled ability to produce content and nurture talent and that is something that we are going to miss dearly on our radio and TV platforms. Going forward, we hope that there’s going to be continued identification of talent and the nurturing of a certain skillset at Amakhosi to continue to feed the various media platforms that are at our disposal because Mhlanga has made sure that there’s a relationship that is very beneficial to all parties.
“We will continue to help and make sure that the developmental trajectory of Amakhosi continues. We will give the developmental pillars to make sure that whoever takes over continues on this path and guarantees that the institution continues to play its pivotal role in the city’s creative landscape. We want to ensure that top notch content still continue to come out of Amakhosi,” he said.
Dr Moyo said that while Mhlanga had mooted the idea of reviving old Amakhosi classics like Sinjalo, they were waited for guidance on how to proceed.
“At the time of his passing, he sent me a message from Sunday News basically marveling at the fact that people were still enquiring about a production like Sinjalo. So, I was just asking him what we could do with a production like that. I asked perhaps if we should recast people for another series and he said with a production like Sinjalo, all you needed was to make sure that your filming equipment was adapted to modern times and it would be a hit. So, that was the vision he had for the station and you can see how this tally with Amakhosi. When it comes to the intellectual property rights and things of that nature, we are waiting for the family to resolve his estate and see what is meant to happen to his productions and other things he might have worked on. Whatever is decided by the family we shall be guided by and therefore be guided accordingly,” he said.
According to a source that spoke to Sunday Life anonymously, the fate of the institution lies with its trustees, who are yet to decided on the direction it will take. Mhlanga was the previous chairperson of the trustees board.