The rich heritage of Credo Mutwa

2012-07-20 14:59

The Oppenheimer Credo Mutwa Heritage Site is a tribute to its founder, who turned 91 this week, writes Lucas Ledwaba

Lebohang Sello recalls how as a little boy his parents would give him a hiding each time he returned home from playing with friends at Credo Mutwa’s cultural village in the Oppenheimer Gardens in Soweto.

It was the early 1980s and memories of militant youths burning down Kwa-Khaya Lendaba, the cultural village built by the famous sanusi Mutwa, were still fresh in the memories of many residents.

It made them nervous.

“Hey! What on earth were you doing with that strange man?”

Sello’s irate mother would scream at the boy as she lashed his behind with a leather belt.

But the hidings only served to heighten the young man’s fascination with Mutwa the sanusi.

“Sometimes we would find him working here healing patients and he would ask us young boys to beat the drums of healing,” says Sello (37).

Mutwa had been given a piece of land at the Oppenheimer Tower in Jabavu, Soweto, in 1974 to develop a cultural village.

His strange artistic creations, drawn from African mythology, drove many to eye him with suspicion and word soon spread around the neighbourhood that he dabbled in witchcraft.

In 1976 militant youths torched parts of the cultural village after an Afrikaans newspaper misquoted Mutwa as saying the government had to send the army into the township to quell resistance against the state.

Then, during a strike against the West Rand city council in the mid-80s, striking workers burnt down parts of Kwa-Khaya Lendaba.

Mutwa left the area shortly after the second incident.

In the process, the village became the victim of vandals, criminals and couples who found it a convenient love nest.

Mutwa is revered by many for his predictions of significant world events.

His predictions possibly include the destruction of New York’s World Trade Center, the 1976 June 16 uprising, the discovery of HIV, Chris Hani’s assassination, load shedding and Thabo Mbeki’s ousting as president.

He has also written books on African mythology and folklore, including the bestseller Indaba, My Children.

The 91-year-old, who now lives in seclusion in Kuruman, Northern Cape, is equally dismissed by many as a chancer and a fraud.

But regardless, to people like Sello, he remains a beacon of wisdom and a misunderstood genius vilified by those who would dismiss anything coming from an African in Africa.

“I’m a full-time volunteer here. I have been for six years now,” says Sello.

The site’s heritage officer, Mighta Makhutle, says he decided to take Sello under his wing when he noticed he hung around the site daily not doing much.

“He’s quite good at tour guiding and he also performs maintenance duties around here. He’s an asset.”

Among the artworks on display at the village are three cement sculptures that tell the story of the fictitious King Khandakhulu, who had more than 200 wives.

It is interpreted as Mutwa’s warning about the coming of HIV/Aids, a deadly disease that he correctly foretold as something that would afflict humanity.

Khandakhulu couldn’t satisfy all his women’s sexual needs, so they went out to seek satisfaction elsewhere.

This led to them contracting an incurable, sexually transmitted infection.

One of the sculptures depicts Khandakhulu’s penis, riddled with sores and something that looks like the red ribbon symbolising HIV/Aids.

“This artwork was completed in 1979, three years before scientists in the US discovered the human immunodeficiency virus. And if you look carefully, this is the same red ribbon that has since become the symbol of HIV/Aids,” explains Sello.

An oil painting occupies a place of pride in a green room opposite giant, green, cement statues.

It is signed “Credo Mutwa 1979”, but strangely, it bears a striking resemblance to the events of 9/11.

In it, an airplane is seen heading for two buildings that resemble the twin towers, with the sun rising over the ocean.

The village also consists of a section known as Thaba Lesedi, a Basotho cultural village and Kwa-Dukuza, a Zulu cultural village.

The Oppenheimer Tower, built in honour of Sir Ernest Oppenheimer who loaned the West Rand Administration Board funds to build housing in Soweto, offers visitors a panoramic view of the township.

Makhutle says plans are in place to renovate the village.

“It is our wish that the old man (Mutwa) can return to this place and share with us some of his teachings.

“When you talk to him about this place, you get a sense that he’s no longer interested and he’s hurt about what happened in the past.

“But we feel it is important for us to have him here and help cleanse this place of all the negative things,” says Makhutle.

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