Ntando Mbatha

The writer reflects on some of the incredible creative talents in the place she calls home

South Africa has a number of artsy small towns, ones people would flock in to on weekends or holidays or while en route to other destinations. These small towns have romantic, artistic, serene and calming spaces. They have well established themselves as holiday destinations or at least places to see.

One such is the Town where I grew up, Emnambithi in KwaZuluNatal.

Growing up in Emnambithi, history passed on through narration (oral history) told us that Shaka kaSenzangakhona named the area Emnambithi due to its tasty water. I currently reside in Bloemfontein and often buy purified water for consumption purposes and one thing I look forward to when I go home, is its tasty water. Although the town has had major problems with the supply of water – residents going without water for weeks on end – the town’s water tastes delightful. This also makes me wonder why the river has not been renamed; however, what does name change mean to a citizen whose most basic need and human right is not met. Maybe one day we need to have a discussion on identity and how symbols around us, shape how we perceive ourselves.

I cannot claim anything exclusive about Emnambithi; at least not any that can be seen through the naked eye. The town however has so much soul. Although it is not artsy and this is definitely not the ambiance you get when you enter, it sure has the crème de la crème, the cream of the crop, forces to be reckoned with in the arts. Let me take you through a journey and boast a bit about some of my hometown’s glorious ones.

Growing up, we’d flock Steadville hall to watch Imbumba. The late Xolani Zondo and Sandile “Ncosi” Mazibuko established Imbumba in 1998. Living in Steadville at that time, one would know how difficult a task at hand these young people had. Theirs was to take the youth off the street, have them embrace and execute their talents in the best way possible. I had only seen people cry on TV, I remember one day as a 10-year-old watching these people, acting and even crying real tears. I was so moved that I even saw myself in that space. Although I cannot tell you that anyone of them ever became TV famous, I can however assure you that their impact lives indelibly in many of us. They continue to work with schools and teaching through theatre productions.

In recent years, there was a group founded by Lindokuhle Jama Dlamini called Uzuluyesabeka. This is a theatre and film production. They focus mainly on short films and indigenous dance, poetry comedy and drama. The most special aspect about the founder of this production is that he has degrees. He struggled to get employment for years and then decided he would make something of his life in the process. He holds dear to his heart the action of uplifting others. He has taken young people and nurtured their talent, with the little he has. He says he is not sure how many times he has been chased by security in Emnambithi because they have decided that the world is their stage and they will use whatever is at their disposal to expose and share their craft. Uzuluyesabeka does work with young artists throughout the Uthukela district. Jama says “we want to promote social healing and transformation through art. We live in broken societies made up of broken families and people need to heal. We do this by telling their stories”.

One other force is Bright S Dimba. His photographs are breath-taking. I remember he used to own an art gallery in Emnambithi and I am ashamed to say that I never made time to visit it. He has won an award at the Design Indaba as an emerging creative. Dimba is the founder of Dukada Artisan Crafts “a contemporary approach to a traditional wire weaving technique that speaks to the functional role of household objects”. His work is awe-inspiring and as you go through his Instagram page and that of his company, you are astounded by the creativity that some people naturally possess. You keep scrolling and ask yourself what God given gift gets any person into that space of creativity. Some offerings in life are beautiful and can only be explained through God’s divinity.

I recently had a chat with a man of few words but immense passion for soulful house music. I knew Vico da Sporo growing up but was formally introduced to him by my cousin. He played at my 21st birthday party and did not even ask for a cent. He made me feel so much at ease as he made us dance throughout the night. Some years later, he also played at my graduation party. There is something so meticulously pure about his craft and workmanship. His latest offering is called Bandlase in honour of his grandmother and is one of the most soulful albums you’d ever listen to. Having featured local artists, he feels that the universe has placed him right where he ought to be and he plans to grow in that space. I am baffled because I think he would do much better in bigger cities but he quickly dismisses that and assures me that the universe does not make a mistake and if he is destined to be where he sees himself in future, then it shall be. I respect how he is pulling other artists with him to climb that ladder of success. Although his music can be consumed by everyone, there is something soothing about the sound and his care in picking the right artists with vocals that match for every song. He is actually beyond his time and we are still to catch up.

My feminist self would not allow me to complete this article without honouring the epitome of ancestral mouthpiece. Zion kaMkhono Vilakazi’s Facebook page states that she is “a proud product of a movement called Words Unlimited which once operated in Ladysmith”. Her patriotism is unmatched. In all her interviews that I have had the pleasure to listen to, she does not miss the opportunity to pull her town up. She is a gem and I am actually glad that KZN is not in slumber when it comes to her craft. I recently watched her video as she recites her poem, which I will loosely translate:

Some people’s only botheration with you is that even though your parents had long been deemed worthless, and as you grew up they also wrote you off as worthless. We’ve grown and managed to triumph against all odds placed before us. Others hate us because we have dreamt dreams different to theirs and have held on to them as we watch them come to fruition. Others hate us because nothing brings us down; we open doors that are shut barge in and own our space.

I look at Zion kaMkhono and see a mouthpiece from a certain ancestral space in South Africa. She does not mince her words which speak truth to power; her voice carries a message that settles deep in one’s soul and shakes up any negativity that had long found refuge. There is beauty in her voice as she narrates her work and there is a healing that takes place. She is another point of divinity, personified.

There are many other people making waves in their respective fields and this article was not to exhaust them; it would be impossible. I however wanted to tap into the soul and depth of Emnambithi. The fact that it has so much to offer and can compete in the world stage. This then bears the question “why are they not growing in their town? Why do they need to go out, before they can get their big breaks?” The SA government drives social cohesion and nation building as well as moral regeneration programmes. Like sports, there is so much goodness in the arts. There is healing through expression, there is grounding, there is growth through creativity. Although mostly cannot be seen through the naked eye, Emnambithi has mass talent and therefore next time you visit the town, realise its beauty through your soul because there must be something at least special about it to have such greatness birthed from it.