As I sat down with an ageing Cont Mhlanga under a 19-year-old xakuxaku/mutohwe tree at Amakhosi Cultural Centre in Bulawayo last week, I vowed not to be swayed to any other topic, but radio, by the old man most people simply call malume (uncle).
Because once Mhlanga starts to talk about the vision he had when he built Amakhosi in 1995, taking his time to explain each of the eight trees that were planted there to represent that vision – time flies by unnoticed.
“All these years, if you look at it closely, we have been preparing for this moment. We have the infrastructure, the experience, the content, the content producers and all that is left is for us to get a licence.
“That licence will be a fulfilment of a greater part of my vision, we have lobbied for years for the airwaves to be opened up. Amakhosi will not be caught napping — we are ready,” said Mhlanga.
The outspoken arts advocate was speaking on the sidelines of the re-launch of Inxusa Theatre Festival, which was officially opened by the Deputy Minister of Information, Media and Broadcasting Services, Supa Mandiwanzira.
“Skies FM will go beyond the skies. We will undo all the damage that has been done by the poison of cultural imperialism, that is why already we have partnered with Stop to Start International, a company that specialises in transformation management,” said Mhlanga.
Stop to Start, which was one of Inxusa Theatre Festival’s corporate partners, also deals in management advisory services and strategy.
“We transform people and organisations by transforming the mindset.
“With Amakhosi we found common ground, my brother Cont needed someone to help refocus his students here and that work has already begun,” said Stop to Start International founder and chief executive officer Zwelibanzi Ndlovu.
Already, 34 Amakhosi students have graduated from intensive training from Stop to Start, and on Tuesday, Minister Mandiwanzira handed the students their certificates.
Mhlanga, one of the gurus in the arts sector, says besides changing Bulawayo and the areas surrounding it, Skies FM, if it comes to fruition, will transform his organisation, Amakhosi.
“There is no doubt that the Zimbabwean arts sector speaks to the population, but it is not saying anything – they have no message.
“Our boys and girls have been poisoned by foreign culture to the extent that they do not even know themselves anymore.
“They are refusing their own content, they cannot even see how rich they are economically and culturally. We want our young people to tell our stories not some people with opinions about us, no,” said Mhlanga.
He said that is why Inxusa Festival had partnered Stop to Start, to address content disparities and “transform our young people’s minds”.
“Now we need to transform the people that talk to the nation, the artistes.
“We need to help these college students realise why they are training to be professional artistes.
“The gadgets that they put foreign music and movies, we want to use those same gadgets to transform our boys and girls, and radio is going to play a very big role,” said Mhlanga.
He added: “At Amakhosi, we have proved since the 1990s that we are capable of creating radio and television content. Several of our programmes have been aired on both television and radio for decades now. The only difference now is that we want content to be developed by young people for other young people.
“Star FM and ZiFM have proved that there is a hunger out there. Look how popular this dancehall music has become or if you like, plays like Sabhuku Vharazipi, people want local content, they are hungry for it and as soon as the licences are given we will feed both television and radio.”
With programmes like Inxusa running under the Amakhosi banner, where several top universities, colleges, high schools and professionals converge every year to exchange ideas for days and showcase their works, it is clear that there will not be a shortage of content.
“This radio station is not only coming to the community but to the creators of content, it is going to change Amakhosi forever,” declared Mhlanga.
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