Mandla Sibanda passed away in the early hours of Monday 26 March 2012 having collapsed near his home at Crabtreeat Crabtree nature reserve, it is thought from hypothermia but the exact causes are yet to be determined.
He was born in Lupane and completed his secondary schooling in 1992 at St Bernard’s High School, Pumula, Bulawayo.
He arrived in Sheffield in 1993 with Sunduza Dance Theatre from Zimbabwe. He performed with the company that toured across Europe, Canada and as far as Singapore. He edited numerous videos, created lyrics for many of the songs and co-wrote the stage scripts adapting the dialogue from the historical texts on which the productions were based. He learned the art of production and performed at international festivals such as WOMAD, Singapore festival of Arts and at the South Bank centre in London.
Significantly he helped to steer a former imbube isicatamiya dance group towards a full dance theatre company working on a variety of historical productions set to music and dance. Together with his uncle Simon Banda, re envigorated a new interest in imbube music and traditional culture. The use of pantsula and other dance forms were strongly encouraged. Where they led in the 1990s other groups were to follow.
In his off stage periods he read a great deal of African literature. The diaries of Scottish Missionary Robert Moffat proved inspirational and he co-directed the stage show “Matata” that resulted in this production visiting the Afropfingsten Festival in Switzerland, Glastonbury and the George Square Theatre in Edinburgh. He also adapted Professor Terry Ranger’s book “Voices from the Rocks- the Story of the Matopos” that looked at the conflictual land appropriations during the colonial era in the Matopos. The project had its premiere in Sheffield and at the Zimbabwe International Book fair in 2004.
He will also be remembered for co- producing David Fanshawe’s Africa Sanctus in Sheffield in 2002. He helped to set it to dance with some considerable political insight and a re –interpretation to evoke the story of the three chimurengas. It played out to a packed hall at Sheffield University of 1500 people.
The Sunduza company were equally at home with children presenting Injabulo 2000 ( stage show and CD)- combining the story of a migrant musician with colourful masks and traditional dances that took the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Club by storm in 1992 and 1993 as well as being taken to a great many schools.
Mandla Sibanda then went on to take a diploma in Audio Visual design at Sheffield College. From this experience he worked part time as a graphic designer and typesetter with Southern E Media in Harare and Sheffield delivering projects for Academic Baobab Books and Longman Zimbabwe as well as John Murray publishers of London to create new Science, Maths and English texts for Zimbabwean schools.
After several more international tours he settled in Sheffield more permanently in 2001. In Sheffield he will be remembered as musical director for SOSA-XA! Sounds of Southern Africa Choir the UK’s first intercultural isicatimiya group. He inspired the group for twelve years . Teaching a multinational choir to perform in multiple Southern African languages is not for the faint hearted. It achieved high praise from the producers of BBC Last Choir Standing, BBC Choir of the Year and more recently in Leeds at the new Jimmy Saville Theatre for the charity event, Choirs Rock.
He was central to supporting the arts programme of the “Leadership Challenge” in the UK over six years that takes junior business managers to Africa and was increasingly looking at ways of using the arts in team building. He helped to direct the Burngreave Cultural industries Challenge in 2007/8 to engage with young people in the community.
He was one of the first artists from Bulawayo in Zimbabwe to hold a University qualification and this was awarded by Sheffield Hallam University in Communication Studies. He was also uniquely awarded a grant from the Community Awards scheme through SEMEA to study with the Regen School in how to work effectively with UK communities. He recently gained a preliminary teaching award through FCDL (Federation of Community development Learning) and the Open College.
He will be remembered by over 50 000 children across Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire for his varied week long workshops held in over 180 primary and secondary schools and special needs centres. Children were given a positive image of Africa through digital arts, harmony, dance and a variety of arts projects. He was an oustanding story teller who captured the imagination of the children through highly animated performances.
In 2007 he directed the England Premiere of Peter Maissan’s Poverty Requiem in support of the Global Campaign Against Poverty(GCAP) supported by Oxfam Novinb in Holland. It linked 27 cities around the world all simultaneously performing the same piece.
In 2011 he helped to direct and deliver Singing for Change – a project supported by Global Partnerships of the British Council and the Department for International Development through SEMEA. It supports a developing education web site(www.singingforchange.org.uk), multi-part DVD and new CD (Sibemunye) by his choir linking communities in Sheffield and Bulawayo.It explores the Millennium Development Goals.
He had just begun to support a new “Dancing for Change” project supported by the BBC Performing Arts Fund through SEMEA to bring new technology and creativity to African dance exploring issues around Climate change. It was to include a new link with the Sports science department and virtual reality team at Sheffield Hallam university and Sheffield University. These projects were designed to bring an understanding of community between nations and to ultimately capacity improve the Es’phakeni Youth Arts centre in Pumula, Bulawayo.
He believed in supporting his own community with a passion and being in the UK believed creativity was central to education and urban regeneration. To this end he also helped to establish a community arts trust in Sheffield, and Amasiko Lemvelo Learning in Bulawayo. He wanted to ensure many more young people would have access to facilities and arts education and learn about Southern African culture by experimenting with new intercultural activities.
Mandla believed in bringing communities of all faiths and backgrounds together. He did this through a natural charismatic personality, by modestly sharing his talents and bringing great joy and energy to everyone with whom he worked. He was co-director of the production house Southern E Media Ltd and a trustee for the not for profit organisation, Southern E Media Education & Arts(SEMEA).
He leaves behind a wife and four children- two in Zimbabwe and two in the UK. He will be sadly missed by all who had contact with him. Contributions towards his repatriation to Zimbabwe and funeral costs will be highly appreciated. Please email arts@ semea.org.uk for details about how to support his extended family in time of need or tel +44 (0)1142437899
A memorial trust is being set up in his name.
Philip Weiss Training Director, Southern E Media Education & Arts(SEMEA)