BY SHARON SIBINDI
Sunduza Dance Theatre has exposed the strategies employed by missionaries in Zimbabwe’s colonisation by premiering the steps taken by the first British missionary Robert Moffat. Moffat went to Matabeleland where he befriended King Mzilikazi, a development which became the precursor to the annexation of the country.
The theatrical act, titled The Adventures of Robert Moffat, focuses on the arrival of Moffat in the country and Matabeleland and will be staged on May 24 and 25 at Bulawayo Theatre.
Sunduza Dance Theatre director Charles Banda confirmed the development to Standard Style.
“Despite huge funding issues and some members passing away, it is a credit to the members of Sunduza Dance Theatre that they have kept the fire burning in Bulawayo since 1985,” he said.
Continually reviewing, revising and developing their output, Sunduza has moved from a pure acapella imbube choir to a full dance theatre group, incorporating talented women as well.
“This year Sunduza is taking on a second reflection based on local histories,” Banda said.
“The Adventures of Robert Moffat reflects on the life of the Scottish missionary and his attempts at converting Mzilikazi to Christianity. It’s based on a review of the Diaries of Robert Moffat, adapted for the stage by the late Mandla Sibanda.
“The diaries were originally published by the National Archives of Zimbabwe. Writing in the 19th century, Moffat translated the whole Bible into Setswana working from his mission station in Kuruman. Considering he had to travel over 3 000km by ox-cart, maybe he deserves better recognition.”
He described the production as looking more widely at how the church and the state have constantly interacted.
“Historically, both have wielded power. The church has created an enormous cultural legacy and continues to spread the gospel. The production asks though how many of today’s economic and social problems of cultural dislocation, and adoption are due to past interactions?” he said.
“The show does not claim to have any answers, but through music and dance, and interaction of past and present cultural dances, it raises the underlying issue of the significant impact of foreign cultures and beliefs. The music was composed by me and my late father Simon Banda. Refreshed choreography has been developed by Mkhululi Khanye, who also plays Mzilikazi.”
Khanye said last year they took a production — Voices from the Rocks: The Story of the Matopos — to the South African National Arts Festival in Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape.
“Penned from the original research of the late Professor Terry Ranger [Oxford University], it was good to meet new friends from Oxford University in the area who are still engaged at the Rhodes University library digging through past histories,” Khanye said.
“The long-serving Khalipani Ndlovu who reprises his role as Robert Moffat, the dynamic Linda Sithole as the present-day priest and narrator, Misheck Magaya, Ivy Nkoma, Baphi Mdladla as Mncumbatha, Mncedisi Sibanda and Banda bring in superb singing and dance to the project together with Ntandoyenkosi Sithole.”