ECONOMIC and emotional instability, the disunity among Africans and the loss of sense of self are some of the symptoms of a colonial babalaas that most black people suffer from today in Africa.
Artists Ronald Muchatuta and Patrick Bongoy are addressing this monkey on the back of Africans in their exhibition, Feso A Thorn In The Flesh. Translated from Shona, Feso is a clandestine African plant which reveals itself through unexpected pain when stepping on it.
It’s known as the Devil’s Thorn because of its two distinct horn-like protrusions. Muchatuta and Congolese artist Bongoy see colonialism as an emotional feso etched in the lives of African people across the continent.
“The exhibition interrogates partly ‘Post-Colonial Theory’ using our places of origin including those of other African states , engaging with the effects of colonialism and current realities that post-colonialism has driven us to,” Zimbabwean born artist Muchatuta tells me.
“My work speaks in response to the global reality of literal and figurative environmental pollution. This encompasses the entire spectrum from the erosion of economic viability, the impact on community and individual behaviour and socio cultural decay of the rural and urban landscape,” said Bongoy of the exhibition. Feso A Thorn In The Flesh opens this Thursday at the Ebony Gallery in Cape Town.
A multi-disciplined artist, Muchatuta has been in South Africa for more than a decade now, based in Cape Town and hasn’t been to Zim in a number of years. “The political discourse in Zimbabwe is also an African discourse. The desire for the so called ‘sweet democracy’ that we wish as Africans affects us in many ways. The militant ways in Zimbabwe are a reflection of the oppressive apartheid era only difference is that it’s the legacy of the liberation leaders that’s devouring its citizens. That militancy inspires the proactive nature of my artworks,” he tells me.
Muchatuta is a qualified Master Mosaic Artist from Spier Arts Academy in Cape Town, where he completed his studies in 2012 and primarily works through the mediums of drawing, painting and creating mosaics. Currently, three of his artwork are up in the Melrose Gallery as part of a group exhibition Reinventing Materiality.
It is at that exhibition that renowned playwright, Mbongeni Ngema saw his work and asked to use Muchatuta’s work as his album art for his upcoming album. “I respect Mbongeni for his lifelong contribution to the South African theatre and music sectors and for the valuable contribution that his productions like Sarafina! Woza Albert and Asinamali made to promote the evils of Apartheid and the struggle for freedom to massive global audiences. It means In addition that there is a creative understanding and appreciation that my work has. The narrative of the work resonates with his music and one can only understand in that context,” Muchatuta.
Works such as this are the antidote to the hangover that a number of people suffer from because not only do the artworks aesthetically turn one one, but they spur conversations which give people the opportunity to engage with who they really truly are.
TIME and time again we hear the story of the struggling artist, but what’s never talked about is their purpose of going through that struggle.
What’s this dream which makes one put on blinkers and focus on this lifelong mission? For playwright Menzi Mkhwane, the answer is building a sustainable theatre company.
“No one has built a black audience for theatre. I mean a black paying audience. I could list so many external problems such as, comedy for instance gets more support more so than theatre and so does poetry. But internally. I will say I have only began concentrating my efforts into offering consistent entertainment which is plotted on a calendar stretching all the way to November next year. I have a five year plan of how we plan to take over Durban with theatre so in a nut shell people will warm up to me,” Mkhwane confidently tells me.
An actor of eight years now, Mkhwane has seen enough in the industry to stir up his passion and desire to create something bigger than himself, from the bottom up. He was part of musical theatre Twist which travelled to Holland and Belgium late 2010 and early 2011. He made his debut with his poppa, celebrated actor Bheki Mkhwane in the production Belly of The Beast.
While in 2016 he won the Best Newcomer award at the Naledi Awards– this was for his portrayal of Sponono in the play A Voice I. Currently, he’s working with young artists who have great potential simultaneously sharpening his skill as a director and an all round playwright.
“People know more about Tira than they do about Menzi Mkhawane’s Master Classes. And I get it. This is why I am closing that gap,” Menzi Mkhwane
Last month he was overseeing a one woman comedy play Babazile, written by Aphiwe Namba starring Penny Ngayo, at the Bat Centre. Babazile tells the story of a lady who sits behind her stall in the market talking to customers about a number of things from Ben 10s and takes you right up to the pulpit of corrupt pastors. Namba asked for Mkhwane to direct the play, to which he jumped at the opportunity of directing his fourth project. “Aphiwe has something that everyone who thinks and desires to be writers has – the natural and tremendous natural flair of writing. Aphiwe can go away for a week and come back with a solid script.”
The play struggled to put bums on seats, as a measly five people attended on opening night. “These are friends including one of my friends Jayshree who is one of the main presenters at East Coast Radio. People received the show pretty well considering that this is my first comedy ever. It was hilarious and doing it with an actress who is only 22 years old and still in training stretched it even further,” Mkhwane says.
“I understand that what I am building which is a life time sustainable theatre company from the ground up is not a short term goal. So in essence it will take a long time, a couple of more shows down the line before I build a solid audience. I’ve been in the industry of theatre and performing for almost ten years now. Not a long time but not short either. In that time I have ‘studied the game’. And from what I have gathered there is no one building an audience of young black people under concentrated efforts in a company setting. I might be the first to do it in this way in the whole country.”
His foresight and ultimate vision allow for the artist’s optimism to freely roam his psyche, despite encounters on his journey. “Do I want to quit when struggles hit me? Without a doubt. But my reaction to those adversities has matured. I’m building a company…building a house that will revive theatre in Durban which is dying a slow death. No one else is a role model. I’m modelling the role for myself. So I never get surprised when extreme challenges new to other people hit me hard.”
Working with young people who don’t have a strong pull to get enough audiences could also contribute to the reason for the paucity of theatre goers in Durban. But Mkhawane believes in the young talent so much, he doesn’t want to use that as an excuse. He believes casinos are the perfect place for Babazile, he’s earmarked Izulu Theatre inside the Isibaya Casino as a platform to try.
“It’s hard to weigh the reaction of a city that hasn’t been offered consistent black theatre around the clock from all types of genres in theatre. The fact is no one is doing that. People know more about Tira than they do about Menzi Mkhawane’s Master Classes. And I get it. This is why I am closing that gap. I’m smart enough. Infact intelligent enough. Experienced enough. Influential enough. Young enough in terms of energy to drive. And just in the right head space to offer Durban audiences better theatre from black producers. So the answer is broad. They haven’t been given great quality and nothing has been communicated to them enticingly enough for them. I’ve rolled up my sleeves and through my growing influence on social media I’m offering all of that in growing degrees of perfected execution. We still make mistakes and learn.”
Currently Mkhwane is co-director together with award winning director and writer, Samson Mlambo on a play Shoe Man that opens in two weeks at Bat Centre. It stars Anele Nene, who depicts all the characters in the story.
BEING first comes with a lot of envy, but it also presents a heap of responsibility. Ask firstborn children or any country’s first citizen. Such responsibility weighs on the shoulders of Mahikeng’s first art gallery which was launched this past weekend.
“Our job is to facilitate each exhibition and ensure that there is a seamless flow during each showing. The more exposure the artists get the easier it is for them to sell their works. This is why we also as much as possible utilise our social media platforms as well as those of our partners to talk about the gallery. Collaboration with the local artists is vital for stimulation of the creative arts industry and also for local economic development,” says Director of The Art Gallery Tumi Tlhabi.
Situated in the Dada Motors Precinct in the North West, The Art Gallery officially welcomed consumers on Saturday the best way; with wine, music and local art on display. Lesedi Makapela was the evening’s music guest as attendees glanced at work by artists from Ngaka Modiri Molema and Bojanala Districts, but contemporary artist Kingsley’s work was the main exhibition. Three art works were bought on the night.
“Our first intake was from all four districts of the North West Province. Kingsley, although having grown up in Johannesburg has settled in Mahikeng,”says Tlhabi.
“We would not want to box the gallery and say it is only for people from Mahikeng. All artists are welcome to exhibit their works as long as they fit the criteria that we have set. For instance we will on a monthly basis, have a particular theme for our showing. Criteria will then be based on that particular theme. Artists are then able to apply for their work to form part of the showing. We would however have a slight biased to the North West Province given the fact that most artists do not have a platform to exhibit their work,” Tlhabi tells me.
Tlhabi, who is also the owner of the gallery, expected around 50 people to attend, as per guest list, but the number was doubled with people walking in purely out of inquisitiveness. “This was much to our delight as it meant that the word is out there that there is an art gallery and more importantly there is an interest in art among the community of Mahikeng.”
“Social media has become abuzz with queries on where The Art Gallery is, how much the work is going for and what the business hours are. This in itself is evidence of the positive feedback that we are receiving. One other great fact is that both the youth and those outside the youth bracket alike are reacting positively,” says
Such reaction, less than a week since opening its doors, displays the magnitude of the role Tlhabi and her team have. There’s a demand for art and there are suppliers within the community, The Art Gallery is there to responsibly mitigate that transaction.
BEING one of the last performers last month at the Moshito Music conference has worked to Musa Mashiane’s favour, as that showing landed him a gig in Mauritius, where he performs tonight.
“They[Mauritius Music Expo organisers] discovered me at Moshito, I was the second last act on the day and everyone was blown away. They were so impressed, since then we’ve kept in touch and they had already told me they were gonna have the expo this weekend” says Mashiane exclusively speaking to Tha Bravado from Mauritius about how he landed the gig to represent Southern African countries at the music expo.
You can imagine, an expo with international guests, a line-up had already put together by last month, but Mashiane has forced the organisers to make adjustments for him. “They asked if I’d be keen to come because they are so in love with my music.”
Taking place for the second year, the Mauritius Music Expo (MOMIX)’s aim is to facilitate an exchange of culture and knowledge between local and international musicians, producers, festival organisers and media through conferences, showcases performances and workshops. Mashiane joins a diverse line-up which features France’s Pierre Nesta and local Ziwala among others.
Mashiane landed yesterday, and apart from tonight’s performance he will also take part in a street festival tomorrow while Sunday he’ll be in studio to collaborate with two artists, Mauritian Eric Triton and India’s Lakshman Das Baul. “They are also on the line-up, but I met them e Moshito, we spoke about doing a song together so Sunday that’s what we’re gonna be doing. I’m coming back on Tuesday and before I leave, ngi ngene e studio and maybe do one song.”
Situated 2,000 kilometres off the southeast coast of Africa, Mauritius is one of the continent’s most beautiful countries and the musician from Mpumalanga has enjoyed how he has been received so far on the island. “Hopefully on Monday I get a chance to relax, because the hotel we’re sleeping in is quite beautiful. There’s a beach inside the hotel, but I haven’t been to the beach because I’ve been quite busy. Hopefully I can go there and wash-off all the bad luck,” quips Mashiane.
Since his return is midweek, this rules out his performance at this Sunday’s Action Painting event at 4ROOM. Action Painting is a monthly event which takes place at 4ROOM gallery in Tembisa each month. This weekend’s line-up features vocalist Towela and band, Trio.
Mashiane is one of the organisers together with MK and Bongani Xego. “I won’t be able to attend this weekend but everything is in order. I so wish I was there but I’m having fun here because I’m still representing this side. So it’s a win-win.”
MOABELO Nzimande is like the tyres he works with. He understands that with a bad attitude, he could never get anywhere just as a flat tyre wouldn’t take you far.
He’s the founder of manufacturing company, African Make which specialises in manufacturing furniture, solely using tyres. Sitting in a container big enough to house a fast food outlet, I chat with the energetic young man in his yard, in Tembisa.
“I wanted to communicate to Africans that, we are no longer just consumers of the world, but we’re giving something back,” says Nzimande. He studied Software Engineering and majored in Business Analysis. “I have an eye for spotting marketing opportunities and being a strategist, coming up with ways of creating something out of nothing.”
During his days at Vaal University, as a way of making money he would hire out hookahs at events, while simultaneously doing events management for campus gigs. When he couldn’t afford to hire a table and chair for his hookahs set-up, he turned to his creativity, creating his own using tyres. “I did research on how I could create my own furniture, I saw people using [gasoline] drums and other various material on the internet. Then I came across a simple design where they used tyres and a rope,” Nzimande says.
Seeing that, he bought himself working equipment-mind you, he had never worked with his hands to create anything. “I did my first design I had seen on the internet. The chair came out okay, compared to what I’m doing now. I was so proud, I had an urge to do better” he says.
From there his love affair with tyres grew, his curiosity pushing him to find out what other people in the world are creating with the material. “I looked at what China, Mozambique, Egypt and other places were doing and what level are they own. From there I started coming up with my own ideas by taking a bit of what they’re doing in China and other parts of the world and mixed it with what I want to accomplish.”
The hustler in him has always been art-inclined but was never the artist himself. He is one of the co-founders of a performance movement in the Vaal during his varsity days, called Back of the Kaff, which gave a platform to rappers and poets. “But I had nothing to give back [to the art]. I wished I could rap, be a poet or paint but I can’t. After creating the chairs, I felt like I was giving back to the creative world.”
After graduation in 2014 he joined an IT company as an intern. “During that time while doing training, you have a lot of free time, sometimes you go to work you’re doing nothing. That’s when I started doing research on how to register a company and I started reading books, and attending entrepreneurial seminars” says the lanky Nzimande.
He says the first book he picked up was Robert Kiyosaki and Sharon Lechter’s Rich Dad Poor Dad. “I was also inspired by the guy that wrote Goals, Brian Tracy, a friend in fact gave me his book. I met him when he was in South Africa, at one of his seminars. I even cried there when he was speaking because everything he was talking about I read in the book.”
Nzimande’s passion for his business was reaching boiling point, asking for sick days at work just to attend these and other seminars to better understand the mind of an entrepreneur. “Every time I got back home from work, it would be me and tyres. But it got to a point where I had more to do now at work.”
The pressure of striking a balance between the nine-to-five and the side hustle got to him, added to the pressure of not making as much sales as he would’ve hoped. “I couldn’t get clients and I had the feeling of being a failure. I let go of African Make and told myself I would focus on work.”
A few months during his hiatus from business, a colleague of his came running to him after she had seen an all-tyre furniture set at a company next door, during her lunch break. “She was like ‘woza manje’ and I get there and this company is having a braai, everyone sitting on the chairs. I asked who made them [the furniture] and they said some guy from the street. I was like ‘you’re a company and you bought this?'”
It felt like hell on earth for Nzimande, seeing someone being successful with something he thought wasn’t do-able. “That day, I got home put on my overall and started working on my tyres. I started planning and strategizing.”
He formally registered his company and created his website. He’d leave work late, sometimes sleeping there to print flyers when there was no one around. He was in super saiyan mode now, jotting down ideas of potential clients on his notebook en route to work and people would hire them for a day or two. Which brought in the some money and the needed confidence.
In that time, he built a relationship with the Recycling and Economic Development Initiative of South Africa (REDISA) who are a tyre depot. He managed to get a 100 tyres from REDISA. “With the number of tyres I got there, I took some of my salary and invested it into getting more material.”
In 2015 his application for the South African Innovative Summit was accepted and Nzimande got to display his work there. “I took everything I had and displayed it there. We created a sitting area at the summit, where people could chill and I got the opportunity to talk about the business.”
As they always say, you never know who’s watching so do your best. Lo behold, someone from First National Bank picked one of the flyers at the summit. “Next thing I got a call from FNB, they wanted to buy two double-seater for their rooftop. That’s when I roped in some of the guys from the hood, who painted Ndebele patterns on the tyres. They loved them,” Nzimande says.
Six months later the bank came knocking at his door again, this time they wanted more chairs for their event but asked Nzimande to donate them since they had already built some rapport with the first deal. They needed the 25 chairs and some tables for the weekend and were supposed to bring them back that Monday but whoever that was supposed to deliver them back got sick on the day.
“So the chairs were chilling there at bank city in Joburg. The employees sat on them during lunch and they were enjoying them. Management was like, ‘everyone’s liking these chairs, can’t we buy them?’ from just giving them for free, I sent them a quote of about 18K and they were like, ‘okay’ ” with his raspy voice, he says in laughter.
This made things simple for African Make to communicate better with corporates this while Nzimande was still holding down his job, but it was different. He became a sponge absorbing the knowledge of running a business from his boss as though he knew, in the back of his mind that he would leave the company at some point. “I made so many mistakes at work. I ended up feeling verbally abused by colleagues and work just became a toxic environment.”
Then a year ago, he did a mistake on a software they were doing for a big client. “When my bosses saw that, I was just tired. Tired of being wrong and just tired of being victimized. I just broke into tears in front of everyone in the office, I said to them ‘If it’s me, this is my exit’ I just took my stuff and left the office.”
Immediately after leaving the building, he felt liberated and at peace. “I remember I got home, I looked at the tyres and said ‘I’m home baby. I worked the whole night. Woke up the next morning and continued working-because I wasn’t going to work anymore.”
It took him a week to make his first chair, five years later and more skilled in the craft of making these, it only takes him just three hours to assemble one. “If we as entrepreneurs masinga qala ama business wethu ekasi, so our employees don’t have to climb taxies and trains to go to work-without the frustration of traffic, trains and waking up too early, we would go far. That’s why abo ngamla ba performa ka ngaka espanin.”