Award for traditional music lecturer
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Durban - When Brother Mpimbili Clement Sithole begins to tell you about his relationship with his umakhweyana bow (a musical instrument), be prepared to take a seat and get comfortable.
It’s a story of a journey of 78 years, of a life lived under the apartheid system, and of being a child labourer. It is also about him beating the odds to become a lecturer at the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Jazz Centre in Durban.
With his wisened face and worn body, Sithole proudly soldiers on in his job because the university cannot find someone with the expertise to replace him. He has been teaching the instrument at the university for 18 years. On Friday, UKZN honoured him with a Lifetime Achievement Award for his dedication to reviving an instrument associated with Princess Constance Magogo, the mother of IFP president Mangosuthu Buthelezi.
Sithole told The Mercury he had forgotten when he joined the university as a lecturer but that he was introduced to it by luck. But his former student Sazi Dlamini said he started in 1997, when the umakhweyana programme was introduced.
“I was never taught at school how to play this instrument. I inherited the talent from my mother, even before I was born. She used to perform at public functions and weddings, but she stopped after she got pregnant with me,” he said.
He said most of her family members were known for their umakhweyana talent at his Ngoje village outside Vryheid.
He said he got the job at UKZN through Professor Dave Dargie, who was then a traditional music teacher at Fort Hare University. He said Dargie had seen him performing in Nongoma and wrote an article about him.
“When Dr Patricia Opondo from Kenya was hired at UKZN to head the music department, she found that there was no one teaching African traditional music. She wanted Zulu instruments to be taught,” he said.
It was Dargie who recommended Sithole, a devoted Roman Catholic priest who was working and living at Inkamana Mission in Vryheid.
“Opondo called me, and I immediately started the lessons. I was happy because I had not expected this opportunity.”
He was credited with helping to produce talented artists such as Dlamini, who is now teaching traditional music at the same institution.
Sithole said he taught at UKZN for three months every year, and when he was in Durban he slept at Mariannhill Mission outside Pinetown.
farm near Loskop where Sithole was born has since become a game reserve. He and other children of the farmworkers were not allowed to go to school. He said the farmer required them join his labour force from a young age.
“At the age of 19, I was worried I would never get a chance to see the inside of a classroom. I thought of running away, but realised that the farmer would hunt me down through police.
“I then took a chance by going to request him to allow me to go school at Inkamana. The farmer agreed, provided that I was going to study bricklaying for three years and come back to help him,” he said.
But at school, he changed his mind. “I refused when the farmer forced me to come back. He then got me arrested for absconding from work. But the Dumbe Magistrate’s Court ruled that the farmer could not take me out of school to work as a farm labourer. While at school, I decided to convert to the priesthood,” he said.
“Right now, I am involved in helping young children from poor families. I teach them a capella featuring umakhwe-yana.