Having entranced appreciative audiences at various venues across the country it was the turn of the Soweto Theatre to host Mbuso Khoza’s acclaimed musical-historical masterpiece, The Isandlwana Lecture – An African Triumph. This production has over the time it has been running been unlike anything else on the theatre circuit not only in how it centres the famous Battle of Isandlwana of 1879 – but goes a step further to narrate the events of that time from the perspective of the Zulu warriors using Amahubo, the songs composed to capture, celebrate, and commemorate these events.
Accompanied by a supremely talented 20-member acapella group (formed by Mbuso Khoza himself) called the Afrikan Heritage Ensemble – the inimitable storytelling prowess of Mbuso Khoza is showcased coupled with the musical talents of the eclectic ensemble which altogether seamlessly combine to bring this magical production to life. Throughout its various iterations The Isandlwana Lecture – An AfricanTriumph continues to evolve and grow with each new presentation due to the fact it does not follow a rigid pattern but rather draws from the audience’s engagement thereby ensuring that each presentation is not the same as the last.
In setting the scene by invoking the motley crew of protagonists on either side such as Ntshingwayo ka Mahole and Mehlokazulu ka Sihayo on the side of the Zulu warriors, and Anthony Durnford and Charlie Harford on the side of the British Army, the audience is given a glimpse of the mindset permeating in both camps as they approached this pivotal moment and how they would deal with everything else that was at stake on that battlefield.
The importance of Amahubo or songs not only in battle but as an essential element of Zulu culture in capturing key life events is on full display as Mbuso Khoza recreates a compelling soundtrack for the events that transpired when the British Army and Zulu Empire clashed in battle.
As the lecture progresses Mbuso Khoza is at pains to explain that for him the The Isandlwana Lecture – An African Triumph is not about trying to promote the Zulu nation over others nor is it a self-serving exercise in navel-gazing but that in narrating these events he hopes to demonstrate how the battle could and should be used as a rallying point to help find solutions to some of the most pressing issues affecting the South African and by extension African societies to this day.
In staging The Isandlwana Lecture – An African Triumph without any institutional support all over the country and with plans to tour, Mbuso Khoza has managed to do what many try to and fail which is to use something he is intimately familiar with which is his own culture without romanticising anything thereby instrumentalising it by placing this battle and the victory of the Zulu Empire side-by-side with other world-renowned battles.
It is often said that ‘history is written by victors’ and in staging The Isandlwana Lecture – An African Triumph, Mbuso Khoza and the Afrikan Heritage Ensemble demonstrate the importance of this maxim and make an important point that history is important but more so how that history is taught.
In all this Mbuso Khoza and the Afrikan Heritage Ensemble advocate for ‘agency’ as a solution. The Isandlwana Lecture – An African Triumph demonstrates the importance of the reclamation of these stories, and the forgotten heroes and heroines of those battles who should now come to the fore and stake their claim in the annals of history.
The Isandlwana Lecture – An African Triumph featuring Mbuso Khoza and the Afrikan Heritage Ensemble was at the Soweto Theatre in Johannesburg.
Tonderai Chiyindiko is a part-time arts writer and contributor. He holds a B.A honours degree in drama from the University of Zimbabwe and a Masters degree in Applied Drama from University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa. He has been part and parcel of the theatre-verse both as an actor and director and more generally worked extensively within the cultural and creative industries sector in various capacities.