MORE than five years ago, it became apparent that in order to keep young people in Bulawayo’s townships from the streets, there was an urgent need to create projects with the capacity to empower youths.
One resident, Styx Mhlanga, had a vision to create something that youths in Bulawayo would look up to after leaving school. He started the Bambatha Actors’ Centre project — which draws talent from Emganwini and Nketa suburbs in Bulawayo — after realising that there were no recreational facilities in his community.
Mhlanga had come to the conclusion that there was a lot of talent and felt that the need to respond to this need would keep the youths away from the streets. Consequently, he came up with this arts and culture project to equip youths with skills that would create employment for them.
The goal, always, was to train quality actors who would be competent in the acting industry. Mhlanga is 46 years old. He is the founder and coaching director of Bambatha Actors’ Centre which was launched in 2007.
The centre offers a two-year course in arts and culture and Mhlanga’s first set of graduates completed last year.
Bambatha Actors’ Centre has a created a number of productions that include Stitsha, Nyaminyami, It Never Rains and Moja, among many others which Mhlanga directed.
Most of the students from this project have gone on to become highly qualified and some are success stories in the industry.
The award-winning artiste, who is also a playwright, having penned plays like The U-Turn, Keep in Touch, Born Again and The Mask, among others, has come a long way. A lot of young people in his community have responded very well by joining the organisation to upgrade their skills in the arts and cultural activities.
He has helped groom several prominent actors like Thulani Mbambo and Millicent Roberts, to mention but a few.
Mhlanga faces the challenges that confront all small organisations; that of attracting sufficient financial support for the project so he can have more students to impart skills to, upgrade the centre and empower Bulawayo youths. Mhlanga and his colleagues have managed to identify and nurture a lot of talent from their community.
Mhlanga’s major partners are Amakhosi Theatre Productions, where they conduct their practical work, and the National Art Gallery, Bulawayo, where they have their studio and where a lot of work is undertaken. Parents of the participants at Bambatha are very supportive of the project.
FOR Styx Mhlanga, the vision for the future is the creation of Bambatha Performing Arts, which will transform the current project into a bigger empire of the arts and culture in Bulawayo.
Although an award-winning playwright, Styx Mhlanga has remained in the shadow of his elder and more controversial brother, Cont Mhlanga.
Having such a prominent artiste for a brother has its advantages. Cont Mhlanga is more experienced, meaning the younger brother has an easily accessible fountain from which to seek advice.
Styx is one of the prolific directors to emerge from the City of Kings in a career that kicked off following a training stint with a Bulawayo City Council project, Iluba Elimnyama, in 1986. Kus of Canada sponsored the project.
They were trained in experimental theatre and Styx Mhlanga focused on acting and directing. They had among them several artistes who included Patrick Mabhena, Clayton Ndlovu, Nomadlozi Khubeka and the late Dumi Ngulube.
Mhlanga engaged in different roles in the theatre world as he sought to find his feet and he discovered that his passion resides in directing, after dabbling in acting, dancing, scripting and backstage.
The TV productions that Styx Mhlanga has directed include Yeyeni Bantu, The San People, a docudrama that was shown on the Travel Channel in the United States and his play, Nomakanjani, which was also screened on national television, the ZTV. Styx Mhlanga won a National Arts Merit Award (Nama) for the play Keep in Touch in 2002.
Styx Mhlanga is a published Ndebele novelist. He has a passion for writing and believes that there is need to give attention to the Ndebele language.
There are a lot of stories that need to be told; the difficulties and the joys of people’s every day experiences.
His first novel Ngekekulunge was published in 2009. He is working on another one entitled Izwe Linciphile, which is about the land reform programme.
His plays and stories are about the things that he sees happening near Emganwini Township where he lives.
Turning back to theatre, he said some of the plays he has directed that have had an impact on theatre lovers include Aristophane’s Lysistrata and Sophocles’ Oedipus the King. Mhlanga is a member of the Lincoln Centre Directors’ Lab, an international association of directors that leads in sharing of ideas in theatre productions and exchange of skills.