WHERE IT ALL STARTED FOR CONT MHLANGA. . . a visionary who shaped local arts
The Sunday Mail
On October 18, 2002, the late Dean of Arts Cont Mhlanga was recognized for his contribution to the arts industry and the general upliftment of the city of Bulawayo, when he was one of the recipients of civic honors from the town.
In receiving this honour, Mhlanga became the 67th recipient, joining other citizens who had brought the distinction to the city of Bulawayo.
Civic honors are awarded to citizens who have rendered long and meritorious public works in the city or who have brought distinction to it. The decision to bestow this honor on the veteran playwright and filmmaker was taken at a full council meeting on July 3, 2002 in recognition of his role in introducing and further developing theatrical art in Bulawayo, particularly the creation of Amakhosi Theater Production.
This was in recognition of the fact that community theater has become famous and has been a great tool in marketing the culture, aspirations and inspirations of the people of Bulawayo. As the nation continues to pay tribute to the veteran arts guru, who passed away last Monday at the age of 64, we reproduce Mr Mhlanga’s award quote.
“A writer, actor, playwright, critic, broadcaster, Cont Mhlanga’s works speak for themselves. He dared to challenge the status quo, exposing these evils threatened with extinction.
“His work has been a voice for the voiceless, a restoration of humanity for those in despair, while forcing society to stare at itself and cower in horror at what it sees. Thanks to the theater, for which he is world famous, Cont was able to touch the human soul, whispering secrets to them they would not dare to tell otherwise, bawling crimes to their faces and crying out for help for those who are discouraged.
“Cont’s illustrious theatrical career began in earnest in 1980 after attending a theater workshop at Stanley Hall where he and a few young people used the hall for karate lessons. He had previously formed a karate group known as Dragons Karate Club. As a playwright, Cont’s first steps into the world of theater were shaky. His first play in 1980, “Sibongile”, failed and was poorly followed.
“It did, however, open other doors for him, as he was later invited to attend a week-long play-writing workshop by the National Theater Organization in Harare.
“It was during this workshop that he met some of the greatest playwrights in the world such as Wole Sonyika, Mbongeni Ngema and James Gibbs. The workshop went further by igniting Cont’s theatrical passion. In 1982 he had his breakthrough with his production ‘Book of Lies’ which was staged at Stanley Hall. Since the staging of ‘Book of Lies’, there has been no looking back for Cont.
Plays such as ‘Diamond Warriors’, ‘Workshop Negative’, ‘Stitsha’, ‘Dabulap’, ‘Cry Isililo’, ‘Nansi le Ndoda’ have contributed a lot to the development of theatrical art in Bulawayo and the commercialization of the culture and inspirations of the people of Bulawayo, nationally, regionally and internationally. From simple complimentary performances at Stanley Hall in Makokoba by enthusiastic amateur karate students, Amakhosi blazed a trail in the world of African cultural arts. ‘Somkhence’, Zimbabwe’s first ethnic opera and Amakhosi’s hugely popular ‘Citizen Mind’, are also part of these acclaimed performances. Cont also pioneered the development of oramedia in Zimbabwe, where through his productions he fused theater with electronic and print media. Plays such as “Stitsha” were made into films which were shown on national television. He has produced radio plays focusing on family planning issues and the promotion of rural development. Books based on his plays have also been produced for radio and television.
“Recently, a feather has been added to his cap as Cont has been producing television drama. ‘The Run-Away Nun’, ‘Wangigqibela Ngiphila’, ‘Usathani Endlini’ are some of the Ndebele dramas that have been screened. We can add to the list the very popular ‘Sinjalo’ currently on our screens. As a writer, Cont is the author of many novels including “Ngakade Ngisazi”. He chaired the Zimbabwe Writers Union in 1989, succeeding award-winning novelist Chenjerai Hove. Through his plays, he gained international recognition and toured several countries. In 1991, his piece ‘Workshop Negative’ was presented at the Edinburgh Festival, in Scotland.
“During the same year, ‘Stitsha’ toured Switzerland, Austria, Norway and Sweden, before heading to the United States of America and Denmark. Its productions are also regionally renowned and have been part of the program of SADC cultural festivals which are held regularly. These achievements have placed the city of Bulawayo firmly on the world map. In the early days of Amakhosi, the theater group relied on hiring Stanley Hall for their performances, but as the group’s popularity grew, so did the need for larger premises. On June 16, 1993, the Council leased 1,0038 hectares of land to Amakhosi Theater Productions for the establishment of a permanent arts center, the Amakhosi Cultural Center, whose groundbreaking ceremony was held in March 1995. The Center now offers the highest quality in theater production and training in the country.
“Amakhosi also runs an international cultural studies program that aims to create dialogue and provide cultural and historical context for the work presented at the Amakhosi Township Square Cultural Center.
Through a variety of forums, Amakhosi creates opportunities for artists, scholars and the general public to explore the origin of African artistic traditions in the country and nurture creativity within the community. Festivals such as the annual Inxusa Festival draw thousands of performers and visitors to the City of Kings, where they savor the richness of African culture.
“While Amakhosi’s motto is ‘Umkhulu lo Msebenzi’ (Work is great), the city of Bulawayo appreciates that since his birth, Amakhosi has managed to achieve several accolades in the theater world and that one day the ” work may not be so great’. Cont Mhlanga’s commitment, diligence and excellent leadership qualities as founder, director and producer of Amakhosi helped put the City of Kings on the world map.
Mr. Mhlanga has brought distinction and honor to the city through his contribution to the commercialization of Bulawayo. It is for this role that the Council awards him civic honours.