A DYNAMIC theatre-maker and community gatherer, Mandla Mbothwe began his quest in the drama department at the University of Cape Town.
Mbothwe is a nationally and internationally recognised icon who goes out of his way to tell the rich stories of heritage and culture for the voiceless.
Originating from the dusty streets of uMzimkhulu, his love for theatre was triggered by a gumboot dance performance he witnessed in high school, he recalled.
“As a politically motivated student, I identified performing arts and theatre as a tool to organise, conscientise and mobilise the youth,” he said.
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He went on to do a leadership course at the University of the Western Cape, where he took part in the New Africa Theatre Company. There, Mbothwe discovered the concept of issue-based theatre.
“It was then that I realised that theatre does not belong in buildings and it should be taken to the people,” he said.
Upon his arrival at the UCT drama department as a student, Mbothwe’s charismatic nature led him to the works of Jay Pather, Jenny Reznek and Mark Fleishman.
Fleishman and Reznek were on their way to forging a new dramatic language they hoped would propel South African theatre into a more hopeful era. Reznek and Fleishman later collaborated with Mbothwe in the development of an initiative known as Magnet Theatre.
After graduating from UCT, Mbothwe was offered a position as a lecturer in the university’s drama department. While lecturing he achieved his honours and masters in drama. It is at this point that he became critically interested in “finding a language to express”.
His move from the vibrant city of Cape Town to King William’s Town caused much talk and concern within the industry.
“Western indoctrination has stolen the memory of black people’s heritage and culture,” Mbothwe responded. He went on to say that the aim of his relocation to the Eastern Cape was to resuscitate the arts and culture scene in the province and to reclaim the province’s “stolen memory” and its dignity.
“My aims are to provide performance accessibility for people, stimulating interest and, as a result, preserving and protecting our stories through theatre and performance,” he said.
It is with that mindset that Mbothwe gladly accepted the position as artistic director of the Steve Biko Arts Centre, situated in Ginsberg, King William’s Town.
The centre works with the youth of the surrounding areas to create inter-generational discussion through drama. The centre works with children of all ages, using literature, song, dance and drama to create a critical reflection of themselves and their communities at large.
“Our aim as the centre is to bridge a community in crisis. You can’t change people until you change their spirituality and their hearts,” said Mbothwe.
Last year, programmes conducted at the Steve Biko Arts Centre were witnessed by an astounding 27000 people in total.
They have travelled to other provinces around the country and as far afield as Mozambique. — firstname.lastname@example.org
Biko centre creates leaders
By GUGU PHANDLE
NKOSINATHI Biko, chief executive of the Steve Biko Foundation, plays an integral role in the functioning of the centre, taking an active part in its running and providing support to staff members.
The Steve Biko Arts Centre’s recent production, Biko’s Quest, took Mozambique and Cape Town by storm.
It was performed in collaboration with the Jazz Art Dance Company. This thought-provoking production took the audience on an emotional journey, combining powerful dancing and moving storytelling.
The current production, which is in the process of completion, is set to be performed at the centre on February 21.
London-based musician, performer and writer Dom Coyote has been conducting workshops with the Abelusi Theatre group. The name of the production cannot yet be revealed at this stage.
The Steve Biko Arts Centre has age divisions which students join through an audition process.
The youngest age group, Imbewu (seedlings), consists of children between the ages of seven and 12.
High school children make up the Izithole (grown seedling) group, while young adults who assist at the centre on a daily basis make up the Abelusi (the shepherds) group. Abelusi also has the responsibility of looking out for the younger age groups, assisting them and reinforcing social bonds.
The centre prides itself on the variety of activities it offers.
The students are encouraged to expand their knowledge and become critical thinkers through literature. The centre also holds poetry reading nights. “We are in the process of developing proactive thought leaders,” said artistic director Mandla Mbothwe.
Members of the community are encouraged to support the activities and programmes of the centre. An annual five-day festival at Easter encourages community participation. The “Resurrecting the Village Spirit” (Ukubuyisela uluntu elunwtini) is a festival of interdisciplinary performances including drama, hip-hop dancing, singing, and works of all genres.
The focus of the festival is the local community. Performances take place at the King William’s Town train station and other communal areas. Mbothwe said: “Theatre does not belong in a building, it needs to be taken to the people.” — email@example.com