Bongani Ndlovu, Showbiz Reporter
RENOWNED playwright Cont Mhlanga was given a resounding send-off by people from all walks of life during his burial at his homestead in Lupane District, Matabeleland North on Saturday.
Artistes from all over the country converged koCont, to bid farewell to Mhlanga (64) who died last Monday at United Bulawayo Hospitals. His family said he succumbed to pneumonia.
It was the culmination of a two-day celebration of his life, following a memorial service at Amphitheatre in Bulawayo on Friday.
On Friday morning, Acting President Constantino Chiwenga visited the Mhlanga home in Nguboyenja to pay his condolences to the family.
He was accompanied by his wife, Miniyothabo, Bulawayo Provincial Affairs Minister Judith Ncube and service chiefs.
The Acting President said the late playwright and culture icon will be remembered for championing the Ndebele culture through arts and helping artistes build livelihoods.
He said Government appreciated the role played by the legendary playwright.
Thereafter, Mhlanga’s body was taken from a local funeral parlour to Amakhosi Township Square in Makokoba, for a brief ceremony by his family and close friends.
His body was then taken around Bulawayo monuments such as The Hanging Tree, Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo statue, Skyz Metro FM offices and then the Amphitheatre.
There, speakers such as Bulawayo Minister of State for Provincial Affairs and Devolution Judith Ncube, Deputy Minister of Youth, Sport, Arts and Recreation, National Arts Council of Zimbabwe board Chairperson Dr Nozipho Maraire, his brother, Mr Stillloving “Styx” Mhlanga and Bulawayo Mayor Councillor Solomon Mguni eulogised the late veteran playwright.
Mhlanga’s body thereafter travelled to Lupane in the late evening.
On Saturday, the atmosphere was punctuated by sombre songs and emotional speeches. Some artistes such as Sandra Ndebele and Babongile Sikhonjwa had arrived with the body the previous night, and held a vigil for Mhlanga.
Artistes such as Albert Nyathi, Derrick Mpofu, Lewis Ndlovu, Gabs Fire, Nkululeko Nkala, Thandanani Women’s Ensemble, Premier Soccer League chief executive officer Kenny Ndebele were among the scores that paid their last respects to Mhlanga.
It was during this time that Mhlanga was revealed to be a Catholic as the hymns were the ones that led funeral processions.
When it was time to bury the luminary, phone cameras and the media were barred from taking footage of the gravesite. It was a great trek as the Mhlanga gravesite is some distance from his homestead.
During his speech, chief mourner, Minister of State for Matabeleland North Provincial Affairs and Devolution, Richard Moyo said Mhlanga was a genius.
“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 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”.
Ministry of Youth, 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 a 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 cultural heritage policy that his Excellency President Mnangagwa officially launched at Rainbow Hotel in 2019 was because of his influence,” 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.
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.
When the last shovels of sand were put onto Mhlanga’s grave, it sunk in for many that he was gone along with a library of art knowledge that spanned four decades.