The Sunday Mail
ON October 18, 2002, the late arts doyen Cont Mhlanga was recognised for his contribution in the arts industry and the overall uplifting of the City of Bulawayo, when he was one of the recipients of the Civic Honours in the city.
In receiving the honour, Mhlanga became the 67th recipient, joining other citizens who had brought distinction to the City of Bulawayo.
Civic Honours are awarded to citizens who have rendered long and meritorious public work in the city or had brought distinction to it. The decision to give the veteran playwright and filmmaker this honour was made during a full council meeting on July 3, 2002 in recognition of his role in the introduction and subsequent development of theatrical art in Bulawayo, particularly the setting up of Amakhosi Theatre Production.
This was in recognition of the fact that community theatre became renowned and was a great tool in the marketing of the culture, aspirations and inspirations of the people of Bulawayo. As the nation continues to pay homage to the veteran arts guru, who died last Monday aged 64, we reproduce the citation for Mr Mhlanga’s award.
“A writer, an actor, a playwright, a critic, a communicator, the works of Cont Mhlanga speak for themselves. He has dared challenge the status quo, exposing those evils threatened with extinction.
“His work has been a voice to the voiceless, a restoration of humanity to those in despair, while forcing society to stare starkly at itself and to coil back in horror at what it sees. Through theatre, for which he is world-renowned, Cont has been able to touch the human soul, to whisper to them secrets they would otherwise dare not speak, to bawl misdemeanours to their faces and to cry for help for those who are despondent.
“Cont’s illustrious career in theatre started in earnest in 1980 after he attended a theatre workshop at Stanley Hall where he and some youths used the hall for karate lessons. He had previously trained a karate group known as Dragons Karate Club. As a playwright, Cont’s first steps in the theatre world were tottering. His initial play in 1980, ‘Sibongile’ faltered and was poorly attended.
“It, however, opened other doors, as he was subsequently invited to attend a week-long play writing workshop by the National Theatre Organisation in Harare.
“It was at this workshop that he met some of the world’s leading playwrights such as Wole Sonyika, Mbongeni Ngema and James Gibbs. The workshop went further in igniting Cont’s theatrical passion. In 1982 he made 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 turning back for Cont.
P”lays such as ‘Diamond Warriors’, ‘Workshop Negative’, ‘Stitsha’, ‘Dabulap’, ‘Cry Isililo’, ‘Nansi le Ndoda’ have gone a long way in developing theatrical art in Bulawayo and in marketing 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 has broken ground in the world of African cultural arts. ‘Somkhence’, Zimbabwe’s first ethnic opera and Amakhosi’s extremely popular ‘Citizen Mind’, are also some of those acclaimed performances. Cont has also pioneered the development of oramedia in Zimbabwe, where through his productions, he has fused theatre into the electronic and print media. Plays such as ‘Stitsha’ have been made into films that were screened on national television. He has produced radio plays focusing on family planning issues and promoting rural development. Books based on his plays have also been produced for both radio and television.
“Recently, a feather has been added to his cap as Cont has produced drama for television. ‘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 has authored many novels which include ‘Ngakade Ngisazi’. He chaired the Zimbabwe Writers Union in 1989, taking over from award-winning novelist Chenjerai Hove. Through his plays he has gained international recognition and has toured several countries. In 1991, his play ‘Workshop Negative’ featured in the Edinburgh Festival, in Scotland.
“During the same year, ‘Stitsha’ toured Switzerland, Austria, Norway and Sweden, before proceeding to the United States of America and Denmark. His productions have also regional eminence and have formed part of the programme for the SADC Cultural Festivals that are held regularly. These accomplishments have placed the City of Bulawayo firmly on the global map. At the inception of Amakhosi, the theatre group relied on hiring Stanley Hall for its performances, but as the popularity of the group increased, so too did the need for bigger premises. Council on June 16, 1993 leased 1,0038 hectares of land to Amakhosi Theatre Productions for the establishment of a permanent arts centre, the Amakhosi Cultural Centre whose ground-breaking ceremony was held in March, 1995. The Centre now provides the highest quality in theatre production and training in the country.
“Amakhosi also runs an international cultural studies programme which is aimed at creating dialogue, and providing cultural and historic context for the work presented at the Amakhosi Township Square Cultural Centre.
Through a variety of fora, Amakhosi creates opportunities for artists, scholars and the general audience to explore the origin of Africa art traditions in the country and to nurture creativity within the community. Festivals such as the annual Inxusa Festival bring thousands of artists and visitors to the City of Kings, where they savour the wealth of African culture.
“While Amakhosi’s motto is ‘Umkhulu lo Msebenzi’ (The work is great), the City of Bulawayo appreciates that since its birth, Amakhosi have managed to accomplish several accolades in the world of theatre and that one day the ‘Work might not be so great’. Cont Mhlanga’s commitment, diligence and excellent leadership qualities as the founder, director and producer of Amakhosi have been instrumental in putting the City of Kings on the world map.
Mr Mhlanga has brought distinction and honour to the city through his contribution to the marketing of Bulawayo. It is for this role that Council confers him Civic Honours.”