Bongani Ndlovu, Chronicle Reporter
IT was both sad and an embodiment of Cont Mhlanga seeing his coffin being taken out of the hearse by pallbearers and placed on the ground at Amakhosi Township Square.
This was time for family rites and multitudes that were gathered there were asked to excuse the Mhlanga family for them to speak to him and request their father, brother and uncle for blessings ahead of his funeral service.
Mhlanga (64) died on Monday morning at the United Bulawayo Hospitals (UBH) after being admitted for 10 days. He succumbed to pneumonia.
A funeral service was held at the Bulawayo Amphitheatre where hundreds of people thronged the venue to pay their last respects.
Mhlanga will be buried at his rural home in Lupane, Matabeleland North today.
In the 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.
Acting President Chiwenga said he personally got to know about the late playwright through his wife who worked with Mhlanga on the boards of Skyz Metro and Breeze FM radio stations.
“He will be remembered for championing the country’s rich culture including the Ndebele culture.
When he opened his Amakhosi Arts Centre, he proved his prowess,” he said.
WATCH: Umkhulu loMsebenzi! Bulawayo celebrates Cont Mhlanga
“My wife worked with the late Cont Mhlanga on the boards of Skyz Metro and Breeze FM radio stations.
It pained us and we were quite saddened when we heard of his untimely death.”
The Acting President said the nation was shocked by Mhlanga’s death as it was unexpected.
“Our death day is only known by God and once you are born what is left is to depart from the earth.
Some people die at a tender age while others either in their middle or ripe old ages but it is only God who knows the day,” he said.
The Acting President said Mhlanga’s legacy would continue to be cherished for generations to come.
“When he established Amakhosi Cultural Centre that is when he proved his prowess.
He wrote many books, which were used as set books in our schools, reflecting the spirit ubuntu/hunhu.
He also played a vital role in terms of mentoring youths at his centre,” he said.
“Many present-day artists who are now household names went through Mhlanga’s hands.
Due to his natural talent, it didn’t come to us as a surprise when he applied for a community radio licence and that of a commercial television station.”
He said at the time of his death, Mhlanga had set up a cultural village in his rural home in Lupane where he had started mentoring youths on arts.
“He might have gone but his works will continue to be there for everyone to see for many years to come.
We say Cont go well as the entire nation mourn you for your great works,” said the Acting President.
President Mnangagwa, who was away in Mozambique, earlier this week mourned the passing on of Mhlanga and also honoured him with a State-assisted funeral.
In the morning when the playwright’s body left a local parlour for Amakhosi Township Square, the venue that Mhlanga opened in 1995, the sadness on the faces of his relatives, colleagues and Amakhosi arts students showed when his coffin arrived at the venue.
It was here where he carved the names of many artistes in Zimbabwe.
And it was a Friday, the last Friday Live at Amakhosi for Mhlanga as he bid farewell to the venue that he called home for years.
Praise poets Dumisani “Imbongi kaZulu” Mhlanga who was clad in traditional attire and Prince Mzilankatha aka Dr Gasolo, led the hearse into Amakhosi, chanting praises to Mhlanga for his work in the arts and how his death had pained them.
After the traditional ceremony, there were some speeches by artistes who he groomed such as Thabani Mbambo, who because of grief, could hardly speak.
Thereafter the hearse left Amakhosi on a cultural heritage tour of Bulawayo, just what Mhlanga envisaged many years ago.
The funeral cortege drove up Masotsha Ndlovu Avenue and turned right into Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo Street and made a brief stop at the Hanging Tree.
His hearse then left and drove up Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo Street to the iconic statue where Umkhathi Theatre Works were on stand-by with an Isitshikitsha dance piece.
The city centre came to a standstill as cars and pedestrians stopped to view the spectacle as the hearse carrying Mhlanga’s body made rounds around Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo’s statue.
Another part of Mhlanga’s life was revealed as his body passed outside Skyz Metro FM studios along 8th Avenue and Fife Street.
He was instrumental in setting up the radio station together with Breeze FM in Victoria Falls. These two are part of Fairtalk Communications and Mhlanga was in the process of helping to set up KeYona TV of the same stable.
The convoy made its way to Amphitheatre. There, Thandanani Women’s Ensemble accompanied the body from the hearse to the stage through song and dance.
The directors of ceremonies were Mr Sihlangu Dlodlo and Ms Sizwakele Ndlovu.
First was praise poet, Desire Moyoxide who gave a compelling poem on the unity of the arts, unity of purpose and urging people to take a leaf from Mhlanga.
While this was happening, South Africa-based Rasta the Artiste was painting a portrait of Mhlanga while sitting in the crowd.
Once in a while, people would pass by and peek at what he was doing.
Mhlanga’s brother, Mr Stillloving “Styx” Mhlanga said Cont from a young age had a creative mind.
“When he was at Fatima High School, we would look forward as a family to his returning home as he had a gift of storytelling.
When he returned home, he would vividly tell us all the stories at Fatima Mission, who were the bullies, the thieves, the priests and the like,” said Mr Mhlanga.
The late Mhlanga’s daughter Gcina said they will preserve his legacy through the Cont Mhlanga Foundation.
In his keynote address, Deputy Minister of Youth, Sport, Arts and Recreation Tino Machakaire said he was deeply saddened by Mhlanga’s death.
He said Mhlanga was a hero of the arts.
National Arts Council of Zimbabwe board chairperson Dr Nozipho Maraire said the arts fraternity has lost a library of knowledge.
Bulawayo Mayor Councillor Solomon Mguni said Mhlanga was instrumental in putting the City of Kings on the global map.
Bulawayo Provincial Affairs and Devolution Minister Judith Ncube said Mhlanga was passionate about artistes and their plight and urged people to support them in their works.
“Last week I was approached by an artiste and they said they wanted to launch an album but had no money since they could not hold shows due to Covid-19 restrictions.
The challenge to all of us is to assist these artistes to realise their dreams,” said Minister Ncube.