Cont’s witches of the craft

13 Aug, 2022 - 00:08 0 Views
Cont’s witches of the craft Princess Dlamini (right) with Cont Mhlanga (centre) and an unidentified man

The Chronicle

Simba Jemwa, Showbiz Reporter
THIS is the first of a two-part series that will walk through the lives of the mother/daughter acting duo of Princess Dlamini and her daughter, Nokuthaba. It focuses on the life and times of Princess and the late Cont Mhlanga’s influence on her life. Part 2 appears in our sister paper, Sunday News (Sunday Life) tomorrow.

Sometimes when you mix dough for a good cake, why not bake a pair just for good measure! Cont Mdladla Mhlanga did just that with the mother and daughter duo of Princess Dlamini and her daughter, Nokuthaba!

The late Cont Mhlanga

But if you have sung, danced, or acted in the last 40 years in Bulawayo theatre productions, you probably know this pair.

Twenty-one years ago, the arts industry mourned one of the pioneers of black stage and one of Amakhosi Theatre Productions’ early trainees when Dlamini passed away after a 17-year-career on stage. She saw the world through Stitsha! And the world saw her through her work on stage.

With the passing of the Godfather of the arts, perhaps even on the continent, Dlamini reminds us of the Cont who took on the world and conquered – conquering the world with well-trained artists working on well-written, produced, and directed productions. Then, just when the world thought NaThuli was a well-cast character, Cont unleashed MaDlamini’s daughter, Nokuthaba popularly known as Nokuthaba OkaMadlamini!

And boy could she act! Like her mother, theatre was what Cont gave her as a legacy. The natural disciplinarian in him helped shape many a young person’s life. When they were working on Stitsha and that period in general, Cont was feared, he was a total disciplinarian.

Speaking about Stitsha, the play that catapulted Princess to fame, the late Cont once said: “My mother was actually NaThuli who was played by Princess Dlamini. I always wanted to tell her story but it was difficult because I’m a man and felt like I wouldn’t do the story justice. So I had to transform and become a woman and that’s how the character of Thuli was created. So Thuli is actually me.”

NaThuli was a difficult character to play – Thuli was the lead along with her brother Mopho and they were the star attractions, in fact, the story Stitsha is premised on the pair’s conflict!

But while scripting Stitsha, Cont made sure the Thuli-Mopho conflict was the centre of the show, but he also felt that the telling of his own struggles needed to play second fiddle to the story of NaThuli. Mhlanga’s mother had a protracted struggle against a white farmer before independence and her indomitable spirit inspired him to bring her life to the stage and later on to the small screen.

“She had a fight with a white man who lived on the farm across the river from her homestead. One day, her goats ate some of his plants and he retaliated by capturing and locking them up. She went to plead with him and he didn’t want to understand and so she freed the animals herself. He didn’t take kindly to this and started shooting at the goats. My mother lost four goats that day,” Cont once told Sunday Life.

A goat

Theatre guru, Raisedon Baya said this about Princess and her daughter: “I worked more with Princess than Nokuthaba. Princess was easy-going, but motherly about the craft. She always wanted to go on stage and do a perfect job. She was always willing to learn and share her experiences.

“I was first a fan of hers. I remember first seeing her in Stitsha as Thuli’s mother. Then on Jazzman, The Story of My Life. So, when I finally got to work with her on Shadows (in which she co-starred along with her daughter), it was dream come true. I wrote Shadows and Stix Mhlanga produced and directed it.

“Yep, she was a loveable person, very easy to work with and she played a very pivotal role in most motivation campaigns.”
Princess was part of Amakhosi Productions from as early as 1984 when she joined right through the time of death in 2001. Her arrival at Amakhosi was for a simple reason – it had nothing to do with theatre! She joined Amakhosi in 1984 because she was tired of being teased by boys and noticing the abuse of women by their spouses and thought of joining the karate group.

Raisedon Baya

Amakhosi grounding, the very foundation from which the theatre company was formed was karate. Mdladla founded the Dragons Karate Club which eventually morphed into modern-day Amakhosi Theatre Productions.

When Princess arrived on the scene, Mdladla had a self-defence class for local youths, and soon after, this group was transformed into a drama group instead. And Cont began to mould Princess into a personality that would play the key role of NaThuli two years later.

On June 12, 1991, Page 14 on Section C of the New York Times, Stitsha was reviewed after a performance at a Zimbabwe Performance Space 150 First Avenue, at Ninth Street in New York. They were booked from June 19 to 23 during which time they favoured the theatre scene in the United States with 90 minutes of dance and song as NaThuli, Thuli and brother Mopho regaled the crowds.

The review noted: “The Amakhosi Theatre, a youthful 12-member ensemble from Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, is among 150 semi-professional theatre companies in a country that has a tradition of Agitprop Theatre. During the country’s protracted struggle for independence, exhortatory no-frills plays were often performed in township halls to dramatise and spur the struggle against British colonialism.

“Stitsha, which had its American premiere at Davis Hall on Monday evening and which will continue its shows at Performance Space on June 19, is one of two works being presented by the company during its visit. Written and directed by Cont Mhlanga, the 90-minute play with music and dance tells the story of Thuli, a young performer who, against the wishes of her father, insists on pursuing a theatrical career.

Thuli prefers slacks to the more demure traditional garb, refuses to act like a servant to the men in her family, and feistily rebuffs a local businessman who offers her a secretarial job in hopes of winning her love. Her liberated attitude makes her the victim of a male conspiracy.

“The play, which is performed in Ndenglish, a patois that blends English and the Ndebele language of Zimbabwe, is an exuberant comedy that takes a sudden tragic twist in the middle of Thuli’s birthday party, then ends abruptly, leaving the fate of several characters up in the air. Facing the audience, the cast announces that what happens next is up to them.

The late Cont Mhlanga

“About two-thirds of “Stitsha” consists of dialogue and one-third of songs and dances connecting the scenes. The Amakhosi Theatre began as a karate club, and the choreographed dances with their graceful ritualised kicking, stamping, and thrusting movements have their origins in martial arts training. Both the dancing and passionately exuberant chants infuse the play with a spiritual energy that extends to the acting, which is broad but not cartoonish.”

This is Princess’ legacy at Amakhosi, one of the pioneers and one of the first to be trained in theatre by Mdladla. And then lived long enough to watch her daughter who first got on stage aged nine get the same from this maestro of theatre! She and her peers include titans of the arts, Doubt Dube, Sithembiso Gumpo, Patriciah Mhete, Alois Moyo, Andrew Moyo, Joyce Mpofu, Taurai Dumisani Muswere, Nomusa Ncube, Herbert Phiri, Pedzisai Sithole, and Priscilla Sithole took Stitsha to the world and told a convincing tale. Told as only Cont could!

Princess was a Cont production and so is her daughter! His legacy lives on, his touch on the lives of these two giants of the stage will forever be cast in stone! Mother and daughter had the privilege of working together in their lifetimes.
They are Mdladla’s witches of the craft! — @RealSimbaJemwa

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