Welcome Msomi remembered as a visionary

Playwright Welcome Msomi.
Playwright Welcome Msomi.
Image: Veli Nhlapo

The late theatre stalwart Welcome Msomi has left a lasting legacy in theatre despite his recent troubles with the law.

Msomi, who is known for adopting one of William Shakespeare's tales Macbeth and turned it into a South African story, calling it uMabatha, died on Friday. He was rushed to hospital in KwaZulu-Natal on Thursday.

The 76-year-old was found guilty by the Palm Ridge magistrate's court of theft of R8m from the Living Legends Legacy Programme trust fund after facing 61 charges of theft.

The disappearance of the money was discovered in January last year.

At the time of his death, Msomi was still awaiting sentencing which was set to be handed down on November 28, but could not happened due to his ill health.

Minister of sport, arts and culture Nathi Mthethwa said on his passing: "The department of sport, arts and culture is saddened by the passing of veteran playwright, Mr Welcome Msomi, who passed away after a short illness.

"Despite the unfortunate events that led to his conviction in 2019, Welcome Msomi leaves a formidable legacy. UBab'Msomi was behind the progression of the Zulu dance choreography and over time, developed a cult-like following. Something he will forever be remembered for."

Msomi's famous play uMabatha which talks about how Mabatha overthrew Dingane opened at the University of Natal in 1971. The play went to the West End's Aldwych Theatre in London and it further went to Italy, Scotland, Zimbabwe and America.

When it opened in 1995 at the Joburg Theatre in Johannesburg, it featured actors like Dieketseng Mnisi and Msomi was forced to step in when a lead actor fell ill and played Mabatha. Msomi showed exceptional writing skills at a tender age when he wrote his first book at the age of 15. He also worked at the then Radio Bantu, today known as Ukhozi FM, where he wrote and performed in plays that were broadcast on the national radio station.

Doyen of both theatre and TV Duma Ndlovu said: "Welcome was a giant tree, full of ideas, who always wanted to take arts and culture to another level. He was always searching for ways to do better for South African arts and culture. He was a show runner, a dreamer and a visionary."

Seasoned theatre and TV actor Mabutho Kid Sithole said: "It is sad indeed to lose another great stalwart like Welcome. I still remember the great job he did with uMabatha and how he took the world by storm with that show. What happened two years ago does not take away the great writer and director he was."

When acting chairperson of the Living Legends Legacy Programme Letta Mbulu was approached for comment she said she had no comment.

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