Thembile Tshuma, 35, is a Zimbabwean who regards himself a multi-disciplined artist. He has an Honours’ Degree from Drama for Life at Wits University where he majored in Applied Drama and Theatre. We caught up with him just to find how life was growing up in the dangerous streets of Makokoba in Bulawayo. And also how did he end up making it so big in South Africa.
Ndibulele Sotondoshe: Please tell us who Thembile is.
Thembile Tshuma: Thembile was born in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s artistic hub, into a family of six children of which I am the third born. I am the father of two sons. I started getting involved in the arts industry at a tender age of seven with Vuka Africa. Over the years, I have been involved with Flame of Africa (vocalist/percussionist), Theatre Development Initiative (Puppeteer), Amakhosi Theatre (Screen Actor), Indlovukazi ZikaNyongolo (Core-founder), Meretetho Production (Artistic Director), just to mention a few of the many companies and groups I have worked with.
NS: How was life growing up?
TT: Growing up in Bulawayo was not easy. I was, at times, tempted to join gangs as a child. We would do all sorts of bad things like stealing and beating up people. But because the township itself was also a haven of talent, I later found myself getting involved in soccer. I had a knee injury and went to join a community-based drama group. By doing so, this changed my life completely because all I was looking forward to doing after school was to go sing and dance. Because my father was a business person, my artistic life was cut short as we started to move from one town to the other. This did not stop my passion for art. I joined debate clubs or choirs and would also form my own drama group at school.
NS: How did your parents receive your passion?
TT: My father always thought that I would be a doctor when I grew up because I was so intelligent at school and would always be the best student at school, but his dream was never realised as I chose art over medicine. I remember being part of the end of year drama group at school from as early as Grade 1. Even though what excited my parents was to see me on the stage continuously collecting accolades from best student in my grade to sports awards, what excited me the most was being part of the final drama presentations where I would mostly take up the lead roles.
NS: Tell us about your current job.
TT: I work for ASSITEJ South Africa where I am the Gauteng’s Theatre4Youth provincial coordinator and also an education assistant manager for the Kickstarter Creative Arts Teachers’ Empowerment Project. As a coordinator, my role is to facilitate a safe bridge between theatre and education, making it easy for schools to book excellent productions for their learners, and for theatre companies to tour productions to schools. I moderate the quality of the theatre presented in schools through a participatory feedback system, serving as a space for local artists to develop collaborations with communities as resident artists, and assist theatre companies in making their work more relevant and accessible to schools. In the Kickstarter Creative Arts Teachers’ Empowerment Project I manage the artist facilitators and teachers in the Free State province and make sure that there is a smooth teamwork between them.
NS: What do you enjoy the most about art?
TT: Art to me is how I communicate to the world through the different forms of performances. When I am on stage, I see myself as a voice that brings to life the different messages which any other forms of communication do not have. Art to me is a healing platform for myself and my audience.
NS: Is the arts industry getting enough support?
TT: Having been in the art industry here in South Africa for the past twelve years, I believe that the government is not doing enough to support and improve the art industry. I believe that there is less effort being put in the creative industry at schools to support.
NS: Where do you envision yourself in the next 5 years or so?
TT: This has always been a very difficult question to answer because I am so much involved in many things. My passion for art and children always leads me to places where I see children and young people enjoying art. When asked where would that be, I see a vision where art is being feasted anywhere as long as children are safe to watch and explore possibilities of a brighter future.
NS: Any last words?
TT: Kids have always been refused the opportunity to be involved in things they want to do and especially art. I urge the readers out there to give their kids the opportunity to experience art in all forms and see who they can become. Studies show that most kids who have experienced art have the capacity to express themselves freely, have a better relationship with their peers and families, have high self-esteem and a high pass rate. Giving them the opportunity to experience art does not mean they will be artists but it opens border possibilities for them to think out of the box and creatively.
Read about one young woman’s journey to expressing herself through the performing arts here
Tell us: What did you learn from Thembile’s story?