Sibusisiwe Manqele defines him as visionary and humanist

Theatre icon Gibson Kente praised as an artist and an agent of change

27 February 2023 - 15:36
By Patience Bambalele
The late
Image: Supplied The late "father of black theatre", Gibson Kente.

TV actor, multi-disciplinary artist and scholar Sibusisiwe Manqele has lauded the late doyen of theatre, Gibson Kente, for his exceptional skill to dramatise the daily struggles in an entertaining and educational way.

Manqele, who delivered a key lecture about Kentes life during the renaming ceremony of one of Soweto Theatre’s auditoriums after the legend on Sunday, defined him as a visionary and humanist. The theatres main auditorium is now known as the Gibson Kente Theatre. 

In an afternoon filled with speeches and music, Kente’s products such as Nomsa Xaba, Dieketseng Mnisi, Linda Sobezo and Mabutho “Kid” Sithole were among those present. The renaming ceremony attracted government officials, special guests and Kente’s family.

Manqele, who holds a master’s degree in television from Wits University,said that Kente had a clear pattern, which was to share stories with the audience. She said his works tackled social issues in nuanced ways to conscientise the nation through music and theatre.

“With that clear intention, he became a legend and by being honoured in this ceremony today it is just cementing that the father of township theatre will forever be immortalised in SA history. His work mirrored the culture of people. As Gibson Kente started his career in the 1960s, his plays were not intended to be overly political. But as the situation was dire, as an artist he spoke truth to power.”

Manqele said Kente was not only an artist but a vehicle for change. She said the legend, who died in 2004, was gifted with a mechanism of talking about social issues that appeal to ordinary South Africans, not just the intellectuals. She said Kente’s play themes were centred on poverty, family disintegration, morality and social economic imbalances.

“Gibson Kente encouraged versatility from his performers. He also believed in fighting positively not destructively. Indeed, the black narrative is universal, and how fortunate are we to witness the honouring of a prolific SA theatre marker during Black History Month.

She said Kente’s creative work, which was rooted in the community and uplifted the people culturally, had inspired a lot of contemporary writers that are seen in the theatre space.