Umkhathi Theatre clocks 20 years

BULAWAYO – Award-winning Umkhathi Theatre Works Company founder Matesu Dube says his group’s two-decade history is a “product of determination against all odds.”

Umkhathi Theatre Works was formed in 1997 by seven people led by Dube after their former group Young Warriors Theatre Company had folded after its director Norman Takawira had left to join ASSITEJ Zimbabwe.

Umkhathi Theatre Works

Umkhathi Theatre Works

“It feels good to reach two decades as I have seen many promising performing arts groups folding before they have even reached five years, so clocking two decades is a great achievement given the serious  economic challenges that have blighted most of the past two decades ,” Dube told the Daily News.

He added that the Bulawayo-based arts group has remained afloat largely due to its members’ passion.

“I guess it is being loyal to yourself and the people you work with and taking the arts seriously because it is your source of income,” said Dube.

Umkhathi Theatre Works Company founder singled out the struggling economy as the biggest source of most of the problems they have faced over the past two decades.

“Our set back has been the Zimbabwean economy and the political situation. The arts in general need support from all sectors of the economy, if the economy is not doing well the arts sector is affected. There will be no jobs for the artists as no one will be willing to support the arts,” he said, adding:

“The political situation of this country in the past 17 years has done more damage to the arts industry particularly stringent laws that forbid artists from western countries to come for exchange programmmes. Because of these laws local artistes have been denied the chance to learn from foreign artistes.

“There have also been cases where foreign artists have been deported on arrival at airports. ZBC and ZTV haven’t managed to pay for artistic works that we do as artists. Funding for the arts hasn’t been availed also due to the political situation.”

Despite the long list of challenges Umkhathi Theatre Works’ history is equally filled with memorable moments.

“These include winning of the Chibuku Neshamwari National Traditional dance competitions, our tour to America in 2013 and training rural school children in theatre arts.

“Most people know us as a dance company but we are also a performing arts ensemble that does a variety of arts disciplines,” said Dube.

Umkhathi Theatre Works will celebrate the 20-year-milestone in low-key later this month.

“We will hold a dinner at end of December that will be accompanied by a show at Bulawayo Theatre. We would have loved to do something big but funding is not available,” he said.