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National hero Cont Mhlanga buried on ancestral lands

by Staff reporter
07 Aug 2022 at 08:27hrs | Views
THE urban and rural worlds collided yesterday in Lupane District, Matabeleland North Province as villagers, artistes and high-profile dignitaries from various fields came to bid a spectacular farewell to Continueloving Mdladla Mhlanga, a man that was roundly hailed as a larger than life character with an unparalleled vision and passion for the arts.

Mhlanga (64) died last Monday morning at the United Bulawayo Hospitals (UBH) after being admitted for 10 days. He succumbed to pneumonia.

He is survived by six children.

Villagers, arts luminaries and senior Government officials rubbed shoulders as they bade farewell to Mhlanga during a colourful and emotional ceremony that crowned his status as an intellectual titan who devoted his life to the arts.

When mourners arrived at his homestead, which Mhlanga had renamed to koCont, a fire that had been started the previous night was on its last embers, as if to signify that the arts giant's stay on earth was at its end, as he returned to ash and dust.

There was no pomp or fanfare as the late icon's burial beckoned, with only sombre songs accompanying a man who gave a voice to some of Zimbabwe's biggest stars over the past four decades.

Mourners kicked up dust while heading to the family grave site, with villagers opening their Catholic hymn books to sing their hearts and lungs out for a man who gave so many in showbiz their big breaks.

Songs like Ngiyalidumis' iGazi brought home the fact that while the world of arts and entertainment spent the week celebrating Mhlanga, for the ordinary people of Lupane, one of their own had been lost, leaving a gaping hole that could not be filled.

This unfillable hole was acknowledged by the Minister of State for Matabeleland North Provincial Affairs and Devolution, Richard Moyo during a speech in which he brought the importance of the late arts doyen.

"I am saddened by the death of Cont Mhlanga. As Matabeleland North and Zimbabwe in its entirety we are nursing a big blow because he was a man that was determined to show our youth the importance of knowing our own arts and culture. We want to thank the President and Government for standing with the Mhlanga family at such a difficult time and giving the family a State assisted funeral.

"Mhlanga was a genius when it came to the field of arts and culture. In his work, we learnt many valuable lessons, including the importance of standing up for ourselves as black people. There is a speaker who spoke before me and said that Mhlanga always represented black people and that is an important fact that we have to acknowledge. He has left a big hole in our lives because if you look at one of his works that showcased characters like Sakhamuzi and Folomani, you see we got serious education on how we can live together as a people, regardless of wherever one comes from because we are one people," he said.

Ministry of Sport, Arts and Recreation's Permanent Secretary Dr Thokozile Chitepo said Mhlanga had been instrumental in the formulation of the arts and culture policy spearheaded by the Second Republic.

"We need to pause and reflect on the amazing life that Cont lived. He was an amazing person who had so many hats that he wore in his life. Whatever role that you cast him in life, Cont acted it with the unparalleled passion of an actor and citizen of this world. We shall continually celebrate and memorialise all these acts and scenes with sentimental fondness. In his life, uKhulu Cont was sometimes cast as dear friend, a family man, a father, a husband, a son, an actor, a filmmaker, a novelist, a director, a father-in-law or a critic and many other characters as he shaped our youth and society.

"The arts and culture heritage policy that his Excellency President Mnangagwa officially launched at Rainbow Hotel in 2019 was because of his influence. We were still a new ministry at that time and we knew that the first thing we needed to do was to have a policy. Those of you who knew Cont, remember he had been shouting in public asking where the culture policy of Zimbabwe was. So, we knew that this was the most important assignment that we must do on our part as Government because one of the biggest leaders of culture in Zimbabwe was now making noise about it," she said.

Dr Chitepo said while Mhlanga could be a harsh critic at times, he always had the best interests of the arts at heart.

"So, when we started drafting the policy my job as Permanent Secretary was to see who we could involve to put this policy together but I had already known Cont and knew I could not go any step further without involving Cont and making him take his position  as a leader in the crafting of the culture policy so we then sent one of our staffers to meet him. I said, to them that he was not somebody who you would just phone him or write a letter so that you could arrange something. He was someone you had to meet and tell that Government was now ready to make an arts and culture policy. If you know Cont, you will know that he did let my team go freely or let Government go so freely. He wanted to know why it had taken so long because we have lost mileage, we have lost a chance to declare to the people of Zimbabwe what our position is regarding arts and culture. More importantly, he wanted to understand how we were going to preserve and safeguard our cultural heritage. So, it wasn't an easy meeting," she said.

National Arts Council of Zimbabwe executive director Mr Nicholas Moyo said it was now important to make sure that Mhlanga's legacy did not die with him.

Instead, Amakhosi Cultural Centre, for so long the heartbeat of the arts in Bulawayo and Zimbabwe, should be primed for a better future.

"The next question to ask is what next for Amakhosi, because the legacy that he left cannot be allowed to die just like that. These are key questions that we have to ask now because Cont was an important figure and we cannot underestimate the role that Amakhosi as an institution played in Zimbabwe," he said.

Source - The Sunday News
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