HomeLocal NewsCommunity Builders: Bambata nurtures young talent

Community Builders: Bambata nurtures young talent

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Forty-six-year-old Styx Mhlanga is a playwright, director and theatre educator.

In 2007, Mhlanga founded the Bambata Young People’s Community Actors’ Centre where he conducted acting classes for young people, most of them orphans based in Emganwini, Nketa and Nguboyenja suburbs.

Through its three-year training programme, the project aimed to create an artistic bridge for its students to move from school theatre into the mainstream theatre industry.

The centre is currently operating under the auspices of Studio X Artists, an independent theatre production house registered with the National Arts Council of Zimbabwe and working with urban and rural communities for the improvement of performing arts skills, values and standards.

Mhlanga heads Studio X Artists. He carried out a research in Nketa and Emganwini suburbs, an area that includes a housing settlement whose residents have lived for more than 10 years without electricity, information facilities (eg library), infrastructure for entertainment and recreation.

He discovered without television, radio and other intellectual resources, youth have nowhere to go for recreation except to hang out in the dusty street corners.

Through the research carried out, Mhlanga also discovered one out of every four young people living in the area was an orphan; information which tallied with that of the local authority’s health department.

That is when Mhlanga felt theatre could be put into good use.

A great proportion of Emganwini and Nketa residents’ disposable income is spent on transport because of long distances to the central business district (CBD) of the city.

It is therefore expensive for most young people to access theatre training initiatives and institutions located in the CBD.

A genuine need of establishing a community-based performing arts initiative became evident. But since the youth had no training to form a meaningful theatre group, setting up training classes became necessary.

Mhlanga approached the local church leadership for training space and they were offered Emganwini Pentecostal Church buildings located at an area of the township known as the “Dark City” because it has remained without electricity for over 10 years.

Bambatha Community Actors’ Centre was formed.
Orphans based in Emganwini, Nketa and Nguboyenja suburbs have benefited from the theatre programme that has covered acting, film making, dance and music since 2007.

Hundreds of them have been placed in different theatre and dance groups such as Sandra Ndebele’s Intombi Zomqangala Kwabatsha Dance Group while some are now based in neighbouring South Africa and Botswana.

“I have been doing this on a voluntary basis so as to help the youths. I am a theatre trainer and I wanted to create a good future for them,” said Mhlanga.

Qeqeshiwe Mntambo — joined the programme in 2008 and trained for a full year. She said Mhlanga taught her and others stage acting, filmmaking as well as skills on performing in radio plays.

She has since followed her acting dream and has been part of radio drama besides doing film and staging plays.

Mntambo has since joined Intombi Zomqangala. She was part of the group’s tour of Europe showcasing a musical play on women abuse that ended in September last year.

“I learnt a lot from Styx,” she said. “He also introduced us to a lot of people who matter in the arts industry in Bulawayo. I met Sandra Ndebele through him.”
Seagirl Novuyo Dube joined the Bambatha Actors’ Centre in 2009, completing her studies last year. She said she learnt stage acting, filmmaking, music and dance.

“We also studied theatre written by different playwrights,” she said. “We were 21 in all.”
She is also now part of Intombi Zomqangala Dance Company.

Zwelithini Makena joined the centre in 2008 and trained for two years.

He said although he studied mainly theatre, his passion was in film and he would use the skills that he learnt at the centre to venture into filmmaking.

Some of the arts activities that Mhlanga is involved in are as follows:

Running Bambata Community Actor’s Centre acting classes aimed at young people.

Directing plays written by prominent playwrights since 2006 such as The Return Of An Exile in Houston, Texas performed in 2009. This year, Mhlanga directed Bertolt Brecht’s classical play, Mother Courage and a local ZBC television drama, Yeyeni Bantu.

Placing students who finish training at Bambatha with different arts groups in Bulawayo.

Sitting on the board of Amakhosi Cultural Trust centre.

Heading Studio X Artists, an independent theatre production house.

When the project started, it was funded by church-based organisations. Mhlanga, however, said Bambatha Community Actors’ Centre later managed to secure funding from the Culture Fund Trust of Zimbabwe.

“Early in 2009, we received a grant of $900 from Culture Fund Trust of Zimbabwe for purposes of procuring instruments and props. We have so far put the money into good use to the full satisfaction of the funder,” he said.

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