I WAS literary discomforted and tongue-tied last week to learn that the versatile whole-arts-encompassing Kitwe-based ensemble, Sunga Umukoshi faces ‘extinction’ if ‘space for rehearsals’ does not come their way.
The story is; someone at the Kitwe City Council wants the renowned theatre ensemble to pay rent for the use of Buchi Hall, a community hall situated in Buchi compound.
I find this to be wrong. Wrong because the mandates local government entities like the district and city councils, have is to promote and spearhead social and recreational like cultural and sports activities.
The story is a miserable one as far as I am concerned. It is deafeningly unpalatable to hear it.
What I have known all my life is that councils should endeavour to develop social and recreational services and conveniences within its locality, and as such councils are primarily established for purposes of this nature; keeping social norms running and about among all ages of people especially younger members of our society to keep them active, and away from mischief; this preoccupation has made some of us grow up as ‘straight’ people with acceptable etiquette.
Sunga Umukoshi should not be treated this way. The group formed 17 years ago in 1997 should in fact be harnessed and extolled for promoting good living through their drama, dance and music. The group promotes and conserves Zambia’s culture looking at the track record of the ensemble.
In the late Fwanyanga Mulikita’s adapted script (2005) A Point of No Return, Sunga Umukoshi explored a story that bent on giving lessons to the public on traditional propriety and decorum.
In 2010 the group’s play Agony of a Woman written by Davies Chumya, Sunga Umukoshi explored the adversity faced by women when left as widows, and the story attempted to caution against would-be property grabbers to think twice.
Sunga Umukoshi showed a vernacular musical dance drama Amalofwa last year and the members are struggling to put it on DVDs so that those that have not had the chance to watch them live can sit comfortably in their homes and enjoy the drama.
The tale loudly rekindles the destitution the unemployed are passing through without necessarily putting blame on government, but calling for hard work.
Currently the Buchi-based multi-purpose group is rehearsing a play entitled Bushe Bantu, a play in Ichibemba.
The theme in Bushe Bantu recoils round a girl child Nanyiwe (Lydia Mwale) who faces her heartless and callous parents.
The girl is led into prostitution while her brother Kanyeng’ue (Samuel Lumbwe) who dreams of getting into Priesthood is thwarted as his parents envisages that he finds an ordinary job so they can begin to reap from his him.
This is a story you will need to make an appointment with and catch up with wherever Sunga Umukoshi will soon be making dates.
Sunga Umukoshi, is a traditional rendition from the Ichibema saying ‘Sunga Umukoshi, ubulungu tabwa afya’ literary translated as keep your neck the beads to go round are not difficult to find.
The intrinsic meaning again is that to grow up, one needs to patiently wait like a vulture or else one breaks his or her neck before beads are found. A very inherent and essential theme!
With such a useful, well-meaning and youthful membership, every Council and Councillor and Member of Parliament, in my view would want to associate with because community work is the core business of Council, Councillors and MPs.
Why then is someone at Kitwe City Council making it difficult for Sunga Umukoshi to find space to rehearse from?
According to Sunga Umukoshi Coordinator Emmanuel Chibamba efforts to redress the situation have been forwarded to the Provincial Cultural Affairs Officer Prince Lamba, where the response seemingly is taking long.
“In November, we were asked to pay K200 for the use of Buchi Hall, and when we called for dialogue with the people responsible nothing has materialised.
So, we wrote a letter to the District Commissioner and the Cultural Officer in Ndola,” explained Chibamba bitterly admitting that without a rehearsal venue, the group would be a nomad or should as well fold up.
Nifty as Sunga Umukoshi is, the group has released an eight track musical album entitled Kolonganya meaning putting together which soon will be on promotions.
Chibamba cited the grotesque picture their colleagues Mutende Cultural ensemble have gone through. Muntende, another multipurpose artistic group strangely now rehearses from one of the members’ homes because they were harassed and finally evicted from Buchi hall!
Chibamba and his other club leadership that includes Nelson Mulupi, Evans Bwalya, Samson Lumbwe, Juliet Musumali, Lydia Mwale and Dickson Kaleya have already lodged in a complaint to higher authorities.
When I contacted Buchi ward Councillor Bibian Nyereti, she was distressed, and I was overwhelmed to learn of her vigour and urgency with which she wants to sort out the matter with the Council.
“I am aware of Sunga Umukoshi’s trouble over the venue, and have already indicated that it is wrong for the Council to charge the cultural group rentals.
It is very wrong, and in my view illegal,” she told me, advising that I should not bother the Town Clerk over the matter as this was an issue within her jurisdiction she could handle.
The Provincial Cultural Affairs Officers Prince Lamba confirmed receiving a letter from Sunga Umukoshi, and has pledged to help as well.
He advised that for the Council to charge a cultural group to pay rentals there was need Council minutes to show resolutions not that such a decision should be made by one officer.
Lamba called on Councils to understand that cultural groups struggle to raise funds, and what they make is not as sustainable as it should be, and that charging them for the use of such facilities would discourage them.
I am aware that once before Bakanda Theatre which used to be based at the structures near Kitwe Main Bus terminus is gone; the premises are now one of the evangelical churches.
I know also that once before in 1998 Chililabombwe’s Council used to shine in the dark; the group Free World Theatre which used Lubengele hall for rehearsals was harnessed and treated as though they were eggs! The young members were instead paid though small allowances for promoting the Council’s image as they always focused on topical subjects in their plays.
Mufulira Municipal Council is another case in point. The Council has engaged Makumbi Dance troupe and given the members jobs so that the group does not disengage. I know that Makumbi is one of the oldest dance teams on the Copperbet, and that members have married and live out of their inert dancing skills.
Remember Abraham Mwape, famed for his Four Corner musical single? The young man is now one of the backbones for Makumbi Dance Troupe.
I want to think that what is happening in Kitwe at Buchi Hall is precisely, sadly happening elsewhere in some Councils.
Councils through the Community and Housing Development departments should find officers whose interest in promoting recreational activities is at the core of their heart, or else the Kitwe ‘saga’ may not portray well the good men and women at Kitwe City Council.
Later when I listened to Tony Kapeshi, the Kitwe City Council Director of Housing and Social Services talk on the ZNBC’s Morning Live program on Thursday morning, I was largely impressed with his articulation about the 14 Council-run social welfare halls as well as his idea to improve on their operations. So what is the deep-rooted story about Sunga Umukoshi and Buchi Hall?
Meanwhile, Yezi Arts Promotion and Production has confirmed the groups participating in the April International Theatre Festival scheduled for 22 – 27 April at Lusaka Playhouse.
The groups comprise Chingola Arts Society (Breaking Pot), Mufulira Arts Society (My Uncle Talks Too Much), ZANASE (Your Sister Talks Too Much) Khomo Lathu, Africa Directions (The Will), Matero Theatre (Town Boy)
and Bantu Theatre (The Pastor and the Harlot). More about the April festival later.
And the late veteran actor Victor Mweetwa’s memorial service will be held on 1st March 2014 at Lusaka Play House.
According to NAPSA Theatre club’s secretary Chanda Mulenga, the memorial is being organised by the theatre club alongside Mweetwa’s family who passed on last year on March 2. The memorial event will be preceded by unveiling of the tombstone at Memorial Park.
As you read this Column, there has been a planned meeting at Chingola Arts Society at 12.00 hours to plan for the World Theatre Day earmarked for Chililabombwe’s wrecked Kamenza Theatre club.
Secretary of the organising committee Pamela Hojane confirmed the crux of the meeting is to specifically sketch out activities that will be part of the festivity which essentially, purposefully is being held in a neglected theatre club in order to attract attention, evoke sympathy which should end up with a call to rehabilitate the club.
The World Theatre Day falls on March 27 and the Chililabombwe-based Coordinator Raymond Kombe Kaoma is busy putting flesh to a sketchy map of activities as well as logistics in Chililabombwe.
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