The theatre vibe in Zimbabwe is really subdued at the moment. The vanguards have reached their ceiling and some, naturally, have nothing left to give as age has caught up with them. But, in the midst of this drab reality, all hope is not lost for the genre in the Southern African country. A new breed of enthusiastic and dexterous thespians is emerging. Their passion is tangible, and they are willing to go all the way to revive the sector. One of these youngsters is 24-year-old Cedric Msongelwa better known as Khekhe in the theatre community. Hailing from the country’s second biggest city, the serene Bulawayo, the youngster had to make a decision to leave his homeland in 2017 and move to the jungle of Harare to hone his skills and it is working.

Khekhe in Imbokodo. Photo provided by Cedric Msongelwa.

His first production Zandezi which he featured in after graduating from the debut class of the Zimbabwe Theatre Academy last year, saw their director, Lloyd Nyikadzino scoop an award for Best Director at the 2019 National Merit Awards (NAMA). That’s how outstanding he and his partner Ronald Sigeca (the twin), were in the two-hander.

But why did the lad choose theatre or was it vice versa?

“I believe I was born for the stage. Tracing my childhood from church (St Columbas Anglican Church) and school, I always found myself on stage,” he responds. “I ended up in the game after getting injured playing soccer which also I grew up in love with as a ghetto boy. My family said soccer is not working for you do something else you love, that is safer. Theatre was my plan B.”

Going back to the NAMA’s the inimitable actor says though their director won and he did not scoop the gong for Outstanding Actor on the same night, the nomination opened doors for him.

“Being nominated was a great achievement. It meant someone out there is appreciating what I do. Although I did not win, I was happy and thankful to God to be among Zimbabwe’s finest theatre actors for 2019. “That nomination opened doors for us because we also got to be nominated at the Roil Bulawayo Arts Awards (RoilBAA2019) in our city and there we won Best Actors with my twin and Best theatre production (Zandezi),” he narrated.

Khekhe and co-star in Zandezi. Directed by Lloyd Nyikadzino. Photo provided by Cedric Msongelwa.

Khekhe, an orphan who comes from a family of five girls and two boys and was raised by his two older sisters says the Zimbabwe Theatre Academy has been a springboard for his growth.

“Zimbabwe Theatre Academy has to a greater extent impacted my career because it was more of an eye-opener. When I was learning there, I discovered that it is not only about acting in this theatre game, there is more to it.”

This year alone, Khekhe has featured in a total of six productions including UmtoloThe Witch HuntersThe Last Days of King of AfricaGarden of DreamsImbokodo and The Storm.

The youngster hopes to build a Theatre in his hometown one day.

“I want to build a theatre playhouse in my city that will focus on nurturing the young talent in Bulawayo and inspire them to create their own opportunities from their own creative minds not waiting for someone to bring a written play and they act,” reveled Khekhe.

With time he also wants to venture into other areas of theatre outside acting.

“I don’t see myself acting all my life but being a director, theatre instructor, theatre lecturer etcetera. As long as it will link me back to my calling, I don’t mind doing it.”

But as alluded to at the beginning of this write-up, the vibe in Zimbabwe is quite low and players in the sector have to deal with a lot of challenges and Khekhe is not exempted.

“One shouldn’t go as far as Harare to get training but let it be there in their environment so that they chose whether they want to be in their city or somewhere. Nowadays you have to go where the opportunities are. It’s not all of us who can afford to do that”.

Khekeh in Umtolo (The Tree). Photo provided by Cedric Msongelwa.

“Another challenge which perhaps I will say the new curriculum in schools is trying to solve is getting students exposed to theatre at grassroots level. That way we are creating a future generation of actors and our future theatre audience.

“We always complain that people do not attend our shows, I believe it’s because they don’t know about theatre. They never got exposed to it whilst they were still young,” lamented the actor. Going ahead, the lad is looking to further sharpening his skills and is searching for funding to go to America.

“I got an opportunity for further training from the Zimbabwe Theatre Academy to Dell’Arte International School of Physical Theatre in Blue Lake California, USA from the 28th of September 2019.

“I was chosen from our seven-member debut class to go and study there and am appealing to potential sponsors and anyone who can help in terms of funds, any amount is welcome so that I do not miss this opportunity of a lifetime.”

With such passion and talent like Khekhe’s, one can say that the future of Zimbabwean Theatre could be looking bright.

This article originally appeared in The African Theatre Magazine on September 1, 2019, and has been reposted with permission.

This post was written by the author in their personal capacity.The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of The Theatre Times, their staff or collaborators.