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Cont Mhlanga mourned

by Staff reporter
02 Aug 2022 at 06:43hrs | Views
One of the country's icons of the arts, Cont Mhlanga, died yesterday morning at the United Bulawayo Hospitals (UBH) after being admitted 10 days ago.

He was 64.

His family said he succumbed to pneumonia.

Cont, short form for Continueloving, established Amakhosi Theatre in 1981 where a number of artists who passed through his hands became household names in Zimbabwe.

It started as a youth karate club called Dragons in 1979 and turned into Amakhosi Theatre two years later.

Cont starred as Mtutureli Niekwu in an anti-apartheid movie " World Apart", which was released in 1988.

In 1995, Amakhosi established the country's first privately-owned cultural centre located within the boundaries of the townships, now popularly known as the Township Square Cultural Centre.

Cont wrote more than 20 plays, among them "The Good President", "The End", "Sinjalo", "Children on Fire", "Games and Bombs", "The Members and Vikela."

He had three books to his name.

He also adapted the popular play "Stitsha" into a TV series and it featured the late Beater Mangethe. He has directed "Bamqgibela Ephila" and "Omunye Umngcwabo".  Cont also produced "Amakorokoza" and "Sinjalo" for ZBC.

He was the founding vice-chairperson of Fairtalk Communications the parent company of Skyz Metro, Breeze FM and KeYona TV.

Cont retired from the arts in Bulawayo in 2016, relocating to his rural home of Lupane, where he was rearing livestock such as goats.

When news of his death trickled through yesterday morning, many took to social media to mourn the leading playwright.

Yesterday, Amakhosi Township Square was closed in respect of its founder, while mourners are gathered at the family home at 488 Nguboyenja suburb.

Cont's brother, Styx, said funeral arrangements were not yet finalised, but he will be buried in his rural home in Lupane.

"People will be gathered at the family home here in Nguboyenja, while we make the funeral arrangements," he said. "But what is clear is that there will be a memorial service at Amakhosi Theatre before he is buried at his rural home in Lupane."

Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services Minister Monica Mutsvangwa said Cont's death was a blow to the arts sector in Zimbabwe.

"He was an extremely gifted person in the arts and media sector," she said. "This is a man who touched a lot of our people's hearts in this country."

Born Continueloving Mdladla Mhlanga on March 16 in 1958 at Fatima Mission in Lupane, he leaves behind a wife, six children, one grandchild.

His father was Dickson Mbikwa and his mother was Sarah Danile.

He went to Shabula Primary School and Fatima Primary School.

For his secondary education, he learnt at Fatima High School from Form one to Two, then did Form three and four, at Sobukazi High School in Bulawayo.

Our Bulawayo Bureau yesterday visited his homestead in Lupane, but his relatives could not comment, saying all communication was being handled from Bulawayo.

Lupane villagers spoke glowingly of Cont, saying despite being a prominent figure, he blended easily with the community and never missed cultural events in the area.

They said Mhlanga was a fountain of knowledge and the community continued to tap from his wisdom.

Villagers said while he had retired from the arts industry his love for the craft saw him roping in community members in the drama series Esigabeni, which premièred on ZBCTV.

"Esigabeni" drama cast member Ms Nomsa Ngwenya said Mhlanga imparted skills to them which made them realise that even rural communities can commecialise cultural knowledge.

"He mobilised us as villagers and we acted in a drama called ‘Esigabeni' which we never thought we could do as villagers based here," she said. "I was able to buy two cows after the drama was sold. Other cast members also managed to buy several properties to improve themselves to uplift their lives.

"He changed our lives as he made us understand the value of culture and right now I have managed to form an ensemble group named Insingizi Emnyama and we even participated in Chibuku NeShamwari competition where we performed well.

"His death is a great loss to us considering the role he played to uplift us. He taught us to market our art and we are benefiting through our knowledge and skills."

Zanu-PF Lupane District Coordinating Committee chairperson Permanent Sibanda said the playwright should  be declared a national hero.

"With Cont it's not a matter of lobbying," he said. "Cont made himself a national hero during his life, his deeds, his achievements makes him stand up above the rest."

Sibanda said he had known the Mhlanga family for a long time and even the homestead that he built confirmed his artistic impression.

"When he retired he came back home, he rebuilt his homestead with the aplomb of an artist," he said.

"It was culturally centred, the mind he had, the creativity, the film room, the kitchen, behind the kitchen a small little orchard where he would make original fruit drinks, with a street light leading to his bedroom with a chandelier from uprooted trees facing downwards. It was splendid, he was an artistic hero."

Lupane Business Association chairperson Mr Leonard Moyo said Mhlanga's death came as a shock for most community members.

He said Mhlanga was pro-development.

Cont's close friend and associate Fortune Ruzingunde, famed for his role of Folomani in the local drama "Sinjalo", said he was at a loss of words.

Renowned poet Albert Nyathi said he lost a shoulder to cry on, describing Cont as deserving of national hero status.

Veteran theatre director and actor Memory Kumbota said he was thankful for the legacy that Cont left, while veteran model instructor and actress Sarah Mpofu, who acted in the hit soap, "Amakorokoza" as Tashi, sobbed when asked about Cont's impact on her life.

"I ask, is it the part where the arts fraternity assumes, the role of the fearless legend and shouts cut!?" she said.

"Not to mark the end of production, but this time to mark the end of an era.

"To know Cont was an honour and to be trusted by him was a gift. Cont was indeed a gift that kept on giving."

IYASA director Nkululeko Dube said Cont was a selfless man who opened doors for many people and transformed the art industry into a recognized industry locally and internationally.

Bulawayo Minister for Provincial Affairs and Devolution Judith Ncube said Cont's death shocked her and the arts industry was not complete without him.

"We respect him for the work that he has done, a lot of people benefited from him including school children," she said. "School children would go to Amakhosi to learn and researchers would also research from him, so his death is a huge loss."

Source - The Herald
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