Cont was an electrifying magician


The Chronicle

Yvonne Ncube, Showbiz Correspondent 

RENOWNED playwright and arts guru Cont Mhlanga has been described as a magician because he had the knack of discovering talent that no one could see.

The late Cont Mhlanga

Mhlanga (64) died Monday morning at the United Bulawayo Hospitals (UBH) after being admitted for 10 days. His family said he succumbed to pneumonia.

While mourning Mhlanga, President Mnangagwa accorded him a state-assisted funeral and gave the family $2.5 million for funeral arrangements. Mhlanga will be buried on Saturday at his rural home in Lupane and a memorial service will be held tomorrow at the Amphitheatre.

In the countless plays and television dramas and soapies, Mhlanga nurtured many artistes into stardom such as Memory Kumbota (Sinjalo), Beather Mangethe (Stitsha), Sarah Mpofu, Precious Makulumo, Zenzo Nyathi and Alec Zulu (all in Amakorokoza).

Sihlangu Dlodlo

In an interview, prominent actor Memory Kumbota said he met Mhlanga in 1986 and was intrigued by his vision. 

“When you spoke to Cont you immediately were impressed by his visionary mind, his probing questions and intelligence.

He always had ideas and contributed to your own with brilliant insight.

When I started working with him, I saw he was a wonderful mentor. He knew people’s strengths and weaknesses,” he said.

Mr Kumbota said Mhlanga took him into filming even though he had just theatre experience.

“He would advise you on what roles to take and the direction your career should be.

I was a formerly trained theatre artist with no film training and he informally introduced me to film.

We started with acting roles in short film projects and he later suggested that I try assistant directing, which led to my roles as assistant director in great projects like Sinjalo and Amakorokoza where he used me in many roles from acting to assistant director and later line producer.

“Cont has directed me as an actor in many projects both film and theatre and every journey was a learning curve. I bothered him a lot about wanting to act with the great actor Tickay Mackay and Cont would say ‘no Memo awuboni ukuthi liyafana lokuhambelana (don’t you realise that you look-alike) so I can’t cast you with him.’

But I did get the chance in one of my major acting moments when I was cast with him and Christopher Hurst in the classic workshop in Los Angeles in the USA,” narrated Mr Kumbota.

He said Mhlanga was very good at individual directing because he knew people’s strengths and weaknesses.

“He would show you your strengths and help you build on them.

Throughout my work, even outside of Amakhosi I always went back to him for advice.

On the multi-award-winning Intwasa play UMbiko kaMadlenya where I got a Nama award for best actor, I went to him for character research and he gave me some important pointers,” said Mr Kumbota.

Mr Sihlangu Dlodlo, a former karate student of Mhlanga recalled the formative stages of the Amakhosi cultural centre.

Amakhosi cultural centre

He described Mhlanga as magical and ahead of his time.

“Cont had a very special talent when it came to dealing with people. His mind was able to compartmentalise things and he identified a person to be good at one thing he dealt with that person according to their strengths. 

“There was something magical or electrifying when you talk to him, his mind was always 10 paces ahead. If you aren’t used to him you might have problems dealing with him,” said Mr Dlodlo.

He said Mhlanga had the knack to identify talent. 

“He was someone who could identify a person to fit in a certain role even when everyone else couldn’t do so.

A good example we used to have an actor called Andrew Moyo an accountant, he was sometimes on the slow side, but Cont believed in him, from the first moment. Andrew became one of the best actors in Zimbabwe,” said Mr Dlodlo.

Mr Lewis Ndlovu, a renowned percussionist and a product of Mr Mhlanga said he identified his talent and nurtured him.

“I knew Cont since 1984 when he had already started Amakhosi but they used to do their training in his backyard at Nguboyenja.

They later moved to Stanley Hall so when they moved there, other children and I from Makokoba would go there to watch. Mhlanga was a story writer, a storyteller and a karate master so he combined all those skills to come up with dramas.

He created many plays but Stitsha bloomed and introduced Amakhosi to the nation.

“He was a teacher, a mentor and a brother.

He was friends with my brothers so he would come to my home and sit by the fireplace and they would chat and catch up. 

“I used to play the drums and he loved how I did it, he then told me that I am very talented and said should come to Amakhosi. From then I started going and he nurtured me,” Mr Ndlovu said. – Follow on Twitter @SeehYvonne

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