PERHAPS I am being rational and merely thoughtful; is any work going on at Venus Theatre club in Kabwe after the Government’s disbursement of K50 000?
Like the proverbial saying, “justice delayed, is justice denied”; are residents of Kabwe particularly those engaged in theatrical entertainment not being denied this social activity which is no longer viewed as just social, but a preoccupation?
My observations lately have been that no works are going on at Venus!
Provincial Cultural Affairs Officer, Vester Ziile, a young energetic, animated and enthusiastic man is the principal person here; he is known to be behind the success or failure of this project. Onset, I want to point out that Ziile’s team’s delay in starting works will not only make all of us start thinking twice, but will equally have Government casting doubtful aspersions if more money should be disbursed for the same project, and other other theatre houses!
I understand K50,000 is a drop in the ocean looking at the gigantic dilapidations, but even then, it is a significant amount that can spur some activity like fixing ablution rooms, securing the premises with lockable doors and painting the walls, and start on with the fixing of the stage and auditorium.
What does Ziile’s team want to start with? What are they waiting for? Are they waiting for Government to drop in more money before works can recommence? K50,000 can refit the wrecked Kamenza Theatre Club in Chililabombwe – so get on with the works!
The way I understand; government emphatically does go on funding a project that has not started. The people in Government would want to see work going on then will add some more and generally call upon others like the corporate world to partner with in order to wind up with the works!
While theatre infrastructure may not be a priority, the Patriotic Front government has shown goodwill towards the performing arts and we should all not let the government down. This is not a political platform, but I can borrow from the concept that those who are unable to tally with us, should get out!
Kabwe residents should get Venus back to its feet and start works with the money available. Kabwe used to be the citadel of organised theatre. Let me take you down memory lane if you have forgotten.
Remember the late Kwaleyela Ikafa and how his musical play Kalicheli became synonymous to Kabwe before he relocated to the Copperbelt? I met Ikafa in 1988 and immediately made him into one of my peers, and shared lots when he lived in Kalulushi while he commuted to work in Kitwe at the Zambia Consolidated Copper Mines (ZCCM) before he was seconded to operate from South Africa where he died in July 1996.
Kabwe’s success in theatre stems from the mid-70s particularly 1974 after the formation of the Zambia National Theatre Arts Association (ZANTAA) with groups like Tikondane and Twesheko theatre groups sponsored by the Zambia Railways while Mukuba theatre was under the tutelage of ZCCM Kabwe division.
Other theatre groups emerged; LEPLATO (Lets Play Arts Together) with Gabriel Mbambara at the helm, Tasiyana Community Arts, and AWIBO theatre which meant Artists without Borders.
Shared equally from these theatre groups came enormous names in local theatre Kwaleyela Ikafa himself, Kingsley Sinkala and Belinda Dube of the musical Kalicheli reputation, Chanda ‘Maximo’ Mwale, Mutale Mulenga author of the famed Tramps Whistle, Philemon Mwanachingwala, Enoch Wamundu, Mike Tembo, Fredrick Mulando and playwright John Nutlisha. Ntulisha who is still in Kabwe is author of hundreds of play scripts.
Venus, a recluse club for European oriented theatre like other theatre houses on the Copperbelt was exclusively for expatriates until early in the 80s particularly when youthful Ikafa came to Kabwe as a graduate from the United Kingdom to join ZCCM.
Despite being a highly learned engineer, Kwale as we fondly called him had so much passion for theatre and joined Venus Theatre where he later became productions director and produced Man Friday an Oxford book play about Robinson Crusoe.
He later wrote Parents, Just a friend and the acclaimed musical drama Kalicheli featuring the late Kingsley Sinkala and Belinda Dube and Mike Tembo among others. Would you be surprised if I told you that I still have a CD for the musical Kalicheli?
At Venus, attention was not given to local plays as racial undertones were prominent, hence Kwale left in 1984 to form Creative Arts Movement (CAM) at the Mine Club and most of the prominent members at Venus Theatre joined him and the name was changed to Creative Arts Simple Theatre (CAST) with the evergreen Kalicheli spiralling the club for over four years.
When Kwale went to Kitwe in 1988 everyone else in Kabwe went to do their own thing memories of Kingsley Sinkala (Kalicheli) went to eke out a living in theatre in South Africa where he died, Belinda Dube died in Lusaka.
Lizzie Mplanza shifted to Kitwe leaving Pumulo Nyirenda, Mirriam Miyoba and the Mukuni sisters, Sibeso, Mwangala and Nasilimwe coming on board to strengthen CAST. Others were Mike Tembo, Raphael Sikopo, Rodgers Muzumara, Tom “dig it” Manda and Stanslus “Ngu” Ngulube and Mwiche Kakusa.
The Mulungushi Textiles sponsored Chilundu theatre with prominent actors like Durban Kambaki and others like Fredrick Mulando of Tekomwenzo Arts theatre emerged to work together, but soon folded up.
By the way from the period 1979 and 1982 secondary school drama was dominated by Kabwe’s Kalonga with the West African play Wind versus Polygamy which stole the limelight during the visit to Zambia by Queen Elizabeth in 1979.
Kalonga alongside Mabvuto Theatre of Mufulira participated in the European-run theatre Theatre Association of Zambia (TAZ) and Wind Versus Polygamy scooped the 1981 award and in 1982 went ahead to take part again with I M Simukonda’s Fear of the Unknown later started taking part in the ZANTAA festivals and travelled to Livingstone with This is our Chance by James Henshaw winning first prize.
With Goodson Mbewe, Kabwe secondary took first prizes in choir competitions while Chilundu theatre with Julius Chongo’s Kings are Born remerged with various awards in subsequent years with Moisten Mutale of Mukobeko secondary winning the Mwanachigwala Ngoma Award for the junior best actor in 1996.
Kabwe, following the sale of the ZCCM-run mines wilted not only in theatre activities, but other economic sectors and Venus was neglected after several theatre artists relocated for greener pastures.
The economy in Kabwe went bad, but with the recapitalisation going in the whole of Kabwe and other Central Provincial towns Venus theatre which at one time was turned into a Juvenile Court should kick start with activities following government’s injection of theK50 000.
Unquestionably, I am convinced, I am not merely being rational at thinking Ziile and his committee should alongside the NATAAZ provincial committee led by Eletrous Kazani and others like Enoch Wamundu, John Ntulisha and Irene Ngoma start work on Venus theatre immediately.
Mike Tembo, though now living in Lusaka has pledged to support the rehabilitations of Venus and would be useful. Other useful people Vester Ziile can rely upon are the Provincial Arts Advisory Committee and all the other Arts Associations like the Visual Arts Council and the Zambia Association of Musicians.