Gugs, oh Gugs, the memories of old linger on

2018-06-07 06:02
Godfrey Mpulu

Godfrey Mpulu

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Lots of artistic and cultural contributions may go unnoticed if not documented well.

Allow me to register my side of things.

As children, there was a lot of arts and culture activities around us. It is a memory I will always cherish.

It was inspiring and captivating just to witness so many art genres in those days.

After being offered mini-halls and small committee rooms as community centres, here comes a beautiful, massive structure with a stage, curtains , dressing rooms , gold and bronze decorations with grey padded chairs. And all of this in the ’60s.

This structure opened up a lot of ideas in people’s minds – culminating in great productions. This place was always abuzz with activity, which prompted people to raise the bar, dress up and rush for tickets.

As a child I knew of only a few Hollywood musicals, which we saw onscreen at the bioscope in Kensington. Flashes of images I could not capture in my mind.

In Gugs, these artists, musicians, dancers, models, actors and beauty queens, came to life-the African way– not as Hollywood slaves and maids!

At school, we always enjoyed drawing super heroes, cowboys, scouts and body builders in pencil or ball point pens on old exercise books.

At the Khwezi Centre, we were exposed to more artistic material, supplied by artists like Kid Kussie, Roland and Phakamile Ngetu.

Ronnie Ndzombane, was a master, albeit he came into my life much later.

I remember Ray “Tototo” Ngcukana, who used to paint a striking and massive concert scene monochrome banner when he advertised popular Jazz concerts to be staged in Langa and Gugs.

At the Civic Centre, we used to listen to our own jazz giants – the Ngcukanas- Ezra, Duke, Fitzroy and Cyril, including Aspro Spoyo , Donald Tshomela , Phyllis Madikwa, Max Diamond, Robert Sithole, and many others.

I still recall the Burning Souls (playing “Samba Party”! ), the Lost Generation entertaining us in the afternoon spends at Khwezi, the Civic Hall and Mnandi Beach.

Our great hall used to attract famous Johannesburg acts such as Bra Sello naBafana Bentuthuko, Mahotella Queens, Izintombi Zomqashiyo, Izintombi Zesimanjemanje, the Dark City Sisters, Mthunzini Girls, Mthimkhulu, Rubber Man, Blondie Makhene and The Movers.

I still recall with awe feeding my eyes and mind in the spectacle of a massive man from the front row during the late ’60s.

This was Simon “Mahlathini” Nkabinde in person, wearing a short sleeved Viyella shirt, pants in a famous brand, and snow white tekkies.

Yeah man, I was still amazed at his style and physique when he first opened his mouth and sang in his legendary groaning style, sitting on a chair emulating his granny sniffing snuff , sneezing, and thus: “Duduzile musa ukudlala ngomama …”.

He sang, danced and somersaulted on stage, with the cabled microphone still in his hand; intact!

How did he do that? I still don’t know. All I remember is that when my mother bought me my first pair of tekkies, I immediately took to mimicking Mahlathini.

Another act which I never saw repeated in my lifetime was a gumboot dance sequence performed by the Mthunzini Girls, accompanied in sync by a drummer and a lead guitarist.

Breathtaking, African Magic!

Gibson Kente staged many musicals at the Civic Centre. He did me a favour when he brought back Sikhalo in the ’90s.

What a priviledge seeing Bingo Mbonjeni, Ndaba Mhlongo, Zakithi Dlamini and Ray Msengana.

How on earth did he persuade these giants to tour South Africa when some of them had already pursued other careers?

Gugulethu Civic Centre, you brought us Mabatha, the musical blockbuster starring the one and only Welcome Msomi with a full cast of Zulu thumping dancers in authentic traditional costumes straight from a World Tour.

In the ’70s, our own high schools brought us their own theatrical masterpieces named “Nantsïndoda”, “Ndixolele Andinakubhabha Ngamaphiko Eminqweno Yakho”.

Imagine the pain I went through painting 20 banners with such a long musical title.

However, this paid off.

At Sizamile High School the staff were a tightly-knit production team, Prince Tukulu, the director and producer, Lindiwe Tambo, costume designer, Nomhlaba Biyongo, the Musical Director, Edwin Mrubata, props master, myself, Godfrey Mpulu, being the set decorater, painter and make-up artist.

The performances went on for weeks due to the public demand. Thanks to a group of dedicated and disciplined learners.

Free film shows were a frequent event on Friday Nights . These were organised by the legendary Kadudu Ndlebe. This colossus can never be replicated.

Schools played their part in teaching us handwork. We had to come up with pieces of decorated wooden trays, tin flower pots, ash trays, awls, wooden spoons and papier mache sculptures on a weekly basis.

I had to come up with huge posters of Kings Shaka, Mzilikazi, Moshoeshoe, Dingane, Ngqika, and settlers Jan Van Riebeeck, Lord Charles Somerset, Benjamin D’urban and Sir George Grey , for the Nature Studies and Language Comprehension every morning.

The irony was that for Geography I had to draw the map of Africa and the World on the blackboard in a flash while standing on a bench.

Then I was asked to indicate Greenland, which was on top of the map and thus of the blackboard. Imagine my trepidation – because I was a short fellow – when I had to jump a few times before I could reach the likes of Iceland and Greenland. It was torture. So that my skill at drawing was also my undoing.

However, this also gained me a reputation, as my skills spread to other schools as this brought me much needed pocket money; 20c for a 2 x 1 metre image.

My mother used to be so proud of me. She once put up my Shaka and Dingane poster on the window facing the street!

The walls of my home were full of the murals of the likes of Tarzan, Mona Lisa, wild animals, shepherds or rural landscapes.

I wish to thank my teachers who made me work and perfect my skills for free.

But due to the scarcity of fashion shows, we watched Miss Gugulethu, Miss Cape Town, Miss Swata, Miss Catu and Miss Atasa shows. These paved the way for aspiring models and actors locally. That was our art.

School drum majorettes, kasi style, parading the streets of Gugulethu. The highlights were Vuyani, Luzuko and Walter Teka Primary Schools. The great challenge was the competition in NY49 Stadium.


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