The Music Discipline at the School of Arts hosted a celebration for its longstanding umakhweyana bow teacher, Brother Clement Sithole.

The event was held in partnership with the National Arts Council, the UKZN African Music Project and the KwaZulu-Natal United Music Industry Association (KUMISA).

The celebration was initiated by the Director of the African Music Project at UKZN, Dr Patricia Opondo, who brought Sithole from the Inkamana Abbey in 1997 to teach the indigenous instrument at the University. ‘Brother Clement is a multi-faceted legend who has played an important role in my life. He is both a care-giver, a nurturer, but also an outstanding instrument-maker. His music is a gift to us all,’ said Opondo.

Dean and Head of the School Professor Nobuhle Hlongwa praised Sithole for his unwavering support of African culture in the School and beyond. ‘We are honoured to know you and share in your knowledge. We wish you well,’ said Hlongwa.

KUMISA General Manager, Mr Thando Nyameni, thanked Sithole for ‘instilling the values of African pride in UKZN students and continuing to promote indigenous music.’

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

Sithole said he was both happy and proud and thanked everyone for recognising his contributions. ‘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. ‘I have taught many students to play the instrument and it is rewarding to see them do so. 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.’

Sithole’s nephew, attorney Mr Benedict Buthelezi, spoke highly of his uncle and his passion for the bow, education, African culture and the environment. He shared humorous anecdotes about Sithole’s life as well as his earliest recollections of his uncle and his spiritual pursuits. ‘It brings me such joy to see the influence that my uncle has had on so many people. He does so much for so many…never expecting anything in return. Long live my uncle.’

Two documentary films on Sithole – The Life of Bro Clement Sithole and Passing on the Baton – which were made by UKZN alumni, Mr Khulekani Zondi, Mr Lebogang Sejamoholo, Mr Nhlakanipho Ngcobo and Mr Siphamandla Ngcobo, were screened at the event.

Said Dr Astrid Treffry-Goatley, who completed her master’s thesis and self-published a biography on Sithole: ‘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 Children’s Home opened my eyes to a very different reality.’

Treffry-Goatley noted the tremendous effort Sithole had made throughout his life to ensure the survival of indigenous Zulu musical forms.

One of his students, Ms Thabsile Nkosi, said: ‘It is an honour to be taught the umakhweyana by 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.’

Many of Sithole’s students paid tribute to the living legend by performing original compositions and sharing memories of him. The Inyoni Kayiphumuli (The Bird that Never Rests) children’s home that Sithole founded performed an Indlamu item that was curated by Mr Iphupho Lethu. Sithole’s brothers from the Inkamana Abbey in Vryheid performed Gregorian Chants in his honour.

Sithole joined his African Music and Dance (AMD) students onstage for a performance that led to a standing ovation.

It was also announced by Opondo that a Book of Tributes of the AMD programme would be conceptualised and designed in the upcoming months. One of its major features would be on Sithole.

Words: Melissa Mungroo

Photographs: Val Adamson and Andile Ndlovu