Khanyile Joseph Mlotshwa
LIKE the Ndebele national poet of yesterday, I will address these words to you, my old man.
It is you who taught us to walk in the paths of our warrior ancestors with pride no matter how unfashionable.
As you join the pantheon of those of my nation who have walked in a way that their pieces can be gathered when they fall, you have become an ancestor today, powerful.
You are powerful because you have become clever in that even though you see, you have chosen not to tell anyone.
Like the Ndebele national poet, may the nation allow me to speak these words to you, to speak to power.
Ever since I heard that you have left us and transcended to the world beyond this life, two scenes have played out many times, one in my head and the other in my dreams.
In my mind, I have imagined you approach Heaven’s gates, barefoot, just as my parish priest always describes the journey between this earth and the next world.
At the holy gates, you find that the gatekeeper, Saint Peter, once called Simon, is a strong Ndebele man.
Ruffling his kinky hair, he stares at you, “And then?”
You are afraid. You nervously hand him your first term Form 1 report from Fatima High School.
“I could not get hold of my baptism card.”
That is all you manage to say.
Form 1 report, my uncle! Kanjani? How did you manage to smuggle it to the next world?
I am shocked because as late as this Sunday, the Sunday before you decided to take your baggage and go, my parish priest said we will carry nothing out of this life.
Except for what we carry in our souls, all shall be left on the grave and on this earth. But you carried that Form 1 report card.
After studying the card, St Peter exclaims “Awu, nansi le ndoda.”
They recognize you in Heaven.
They know you in that beautiful city.
How can they not know you after all the great work you have done down here.
In the beginning, God created the world out of nothingness.
In the beginning God created man in His own image. In creating him in His own image, God created man so that He can create as well. God created man to be creative.
Following in His image, you created Amakhosi Performing Arts and the Township Square Cultural Centre (TSCC) out of seeming nothingness.
You built that beautiful city of creativity on the wells of the Ndebele women to be the fountain of knowledge and our culture.
You created all those plays, Nansi Le Ndoda and The Good President, among them, to warn and to teach us to walk upright all the time.
They know you in Heaven because of all this. In your creativity, you have been like Adam, the man created in God’s image.
In my dreams, I see you taking another path. Like my A Level English teacher, I see you refuse to present yourself to Heaven.
“I don’t want to go to the comfort of heaven,” my teacher used to say.
“I want to be an ancestor and look after my children.”
My teacher was a socialist who swore, even in the next life, he would refuse a comfortable bourgeoisie life.
In my dreams, I see you journey to the world of the ancestors so that you can be the worthy ancestor you are and look after us your children.
When you get there, you present yourself to Xukuthwayo Mlotshwa, the national poet during King Mzilikazi Khumalo’s reign.
At first uMlotshwa does not care about you. It is when you tell him who you are that he stands up in salutation of another great man of words; a man who, like him, has used words to counsel kings and bring to order the powerful.
I see him take you to Ndabezinhle Sigogo, Mayford Sibanda, David Magagula and all the great Ndebele women and men of letters.
What a beautiful reunion.
O! ancestors of our nation, we beg you, together may you continue to look after us, to look after this language, to look after this culture, to look after this civilization.
Mhlanga, may you continue to look after those who will look after that national treasure, the Amakhosi Township Square Cultural Centre.
I will hold on to the beautiful memories of our long conversations at the TSCC.
I recall how, for many times you told me that theatre has been your “biggest university.”
It was in reading the French Marxist, Louis Althuser that I was taken aback by his observation that in working out his revolutionary theory, Karl Marx had to abandon his bourgeois and petty-bourgeois positions “and adopt the class positions of the proletariat.”
While in the university of life, Marx privileged the position of the proletariat as the site of theory, Mhlanga, you always privileged the lives of the small people in the townships and in the villages as the site of serious art.
It is in hindsight that I understand why you felt strongly that theatre has been your biggest university.
Through theatre, you not only travelled the world but also travelled Matabeleland, sleeping on benches and desks to perform your important plays at schools.
In a true university of life, you met a lot of small people, whom you taught and from whom you learned a lot.
You taught and inspired generations.
Mhlanga, my old man, my uncle and my mentor, they call you an artist, but I call you a revolutionary; the only person that I concede loved Matabeleland as much as I do.
I recall how you always expressed your frustration with what was happening at the Ndebele royal Khumalo house.
The failure to put forward ithole for the nation to coronate to a king captured was a big letdown of the nation.
It is sad that you turn your back on us when the destination is still far and the departure far as well on that matter.
I am sure you know the matter is in the courts of Zimbabwe. Let me not start with the game of thrones issue, least you respond and this conversation does not end.
Like all Ndebele people, you loved to talk, you loved a good conversation and could speak from sunrise to noon, noon to sunset.
I must let you go, and wish that you go well my mentor.
We will pick the spear and continue the charge.
I remain to mourn with your wife and your children.
I remain to mourn with your all your siblings. I remain to mourn with your students and all other protégées.
I remain to mourn with the Ndebele nation. I remain to mourn with the people of Zimbabwe.
I remain to mourn with the black nation of Africa. I remain to mourn with the entire universe.
Iqiniso nant’MhlangaLamuhla sibhongel’ emswaneni wakho nkabi yami
Wen’ oth’ ukuma wangangentaba zeMatojeni
Lamuhl’ ulel’ ungangoNgulukudela loZambezi
Izandl’ezimbil’ezipheth’ ilizwe leMandebeleni
Hamba kuhle thole lamaKhebesi
Wen’ ongaweli ngesihlenge somfula
Kodw’ uwela ngamazibuko
Hamba kuhle Khebes’ obomvu
Ubatshel’ oSokhumal’ amakhos’ ethu
Sisele siwupheth’ umdikadika wesizw’ asihlehli
Kodwa sishesha siyaphambili
Khanyile Mlotshwa researches and teaches media and cultural studies at the University of KwaZulu Natal (UKZN) in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa. Between 2003 and 2006, he worked as the information officer at Amakhosi Township Square Cultural Centre (TSCC) in Makokoba, Bulawayo.