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Brother Clement Sithole (third right) with UKZN
students and Dr Patricia Opondo (second left) and
Dr Tulio de Oliveira (extreme right).

UKZN umakhweyana bow teacher, Brother Clement Sithole, received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the International Council for Traditional Music (ICTM) African Music Symposium held on the Howard College campus. He was nominated for the award by Dr Patricia Opondo, Director of the African Music Project at UKZN.

‘We are all extremely proud of this final outcome, which celebrates and honours a great icon in our midst, the African Music and Dance Umakhweyana bow specialist teacher, who is truly deserving of this Lifetime Achievement Award bestowed on him by the University of KwaZulu-Natal in conjunction with the eThekwini Municipality,’ said Opondo.

The award is in recognition of his contributions to preserving the Zulu indigenous instrument he learned to play at the feet of the late Princess Constance Magogo, the mother of Inkatha Freedom Party politician Mangosuthu Buthelezi.  

The umakhweyana is a single-stringed, braced bow of the Zulu people, usually associated with young unmarried women who play it when performing daily chores or alone in the evenings when missing loved ones. This instrument has become rare, following the introduction of Western musical instruments such as the guitar into Zulu music.

A book launch and documentary film on Sithole, made by UKZN alumni, Dr Astrid Treffry-Goatley, Mr Khulekani Zondi, and Mr Lebogang Sejamoholo and Mr Nhlakanipho Ngcobo, both of UKZN, were showcased at the event.

The film on Sithole is the first fieldwork project under the umbrella of the UKZN African Music Project Documentation Unit, supervised and directed by Dr Opondo, who also supervised all four of the students involved in the book and documentary.

Sithole said he was both happy and proud to be given the award and thanked everyone for recognising his contributions and also those who helped put the book together. ‘This is a God-given gift. Teaching the umakhweyana is one of my duties as a Benedictine Monk to make the world civilised,’ he said.

Sithole, whose Golden Jubilee Celebrations were held earlier this year, is seen as one of the leading lights among staff teaching music. He has been teaching umakhweyana in the African Music and Dance Programme since 1998, travelling to UKZN weekly.

‘I have taught many students to play the instrument and it is rewarding to see them play. I hope that they continue to showcase the wonder of the bow. They must hold onto their culture and take pride in it. This knowledge needs to live on,’ he said. 

One of his pupils, Ms Thobile Mbanjwa, said: ‘It is an honour to be taught the umakhweyana from Brother Clement. I love learning from him and I hope to teach others about the bow, especially maidens who participate in the Reed Dance. This is something that we’ll treasure as part of Zulu culture.’

Dr Astrid Treffry-Goatley, completed her MA Thesis focusing on Brother Clement and his work with orphaned children in an initiative known as Inyoni Kayiphumuli (The Bird that Never Rests).

It traces his musical development, his acquisition of indigenous musical knowledge, and his application of this knowledge to his present experience in particular his work with the Inyoni Kayiphumuli Children’s Home.

Talking about her experience with Sithole in 2000 when she was a student learning about the bow, she said: ‘I remember the first lesson clearly – my initial impression of Brother Clement was of an individual with a great depth of knowledge and experience.

‘This gave him an air of authority and wisdom. I recognised that my umakhweyana lessons were a unique experience in my life. One of the requirements of the African Music and Dance course was a documentation report. In the report, I included a biographical section on Brother Clement.

‘Through the biographical interviews, I came to know more about his life and was fascinated by his story. I became aware of the tremendous effort he has made throughout his life to ensure the survival of indigenous Zulu musical forms.’

The fascination led to Treffry-Goatley self-publishing a book based on Sithole’s life. ‘Meeting Brother Clement was an important turning point in my life. I grew up in a middle-class society with little exposure to the daily struggle for food, upliftment, health and education that so many South Africans experience. My contact with Brother Clement and the Inyoni Kayiphumuli Home opened my eyes to a very different reality.’