Not For Chancers? Zenzo Nyathi & Sam Malete: In Conversation

Are we ready to see ourselves on TV everyday?

Facilitated by Alex Gwaze (Curator)

I don’t know if you noticed but we’re in the midst of a cultural revolution (and this time the revolution will be televised). Let me explain. Firstly, Zimbabwe was the first country in Southern Africa to introduce television services in 1960. Since then the majority of Zimbabweans have only experienced just the one TV channel (ZBC TV1), yet South Africa has four (SABC 1, 2 and 3 and Etv). However, since the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, several new channels have been introduced primarily on Multichoice’s DSTV package – specifically, 3KTV, ZTN Prime and DSTV’s Zambezi Magic. Furthermore, KeYona TV, NRTV and JIT TV are on their way. So Zimbabweans have gone from one TV channel for 62 years to potentially seven channels in the last two years (God’s time). With all this promise of new stories and more jobs just beyond the horizon, I thought it would be great to get two veterans of the Film and Theatre Arts industry in a conversation, so that we can get a glimpse of where this television revolution might be headed.

Firstly, I contacted two time National Arts Merit Award Best Actor winner, in both Film and Theatre, Zenzo Nyathi. Zenzo’s experience spans over two decades and his one of the most recognisable figures to come out of Amakhosi Performing Arts. He is know for his roles in “Amakorokoza”, “An Act of Man” and “Rags and Garbage”. In addition, Zenzo has featured in several theatre productions, namely: “Games and Bombs”, “Somkhence”, “Madman and Fools”, “Rituals”, “Garden of Dreams”, “The Members” and “The Hostel”. His currently acting in “Usendo” on 3KTV.

Next I reached out to Actor, Casting Consultant and Acting Coach, Sam Malete. In his 15+ year career Sam has acted in over 20 films and series that include “Chinhoyi 7”, “King’s Kraal”, “Mzotshayo”, “Missing Grace”, “Hotel Khumalo”, “Blood Eyes” and “Morning After”, just to name a few. Regionally he has been cast in the following DSTV / Zambezi Magic productions: “Stealers”, “Jaiva S’bone” , “400” and “Figure It Out”. Sam has also been invited to talk at the European Film Festival Zimbabwe and Africa Light. He is currently acting in “Intab’enkulu” on ZTN Prime, “Usendo” on 3KTV and “Unsuku Zokucina” on ZBC TV1.

Zenzo and Sam have crossed paths on several production over the years and in their conversation they talked about rapping, church, cheating, chancers, lying to their parents and the government.

ZENZO: Sam whenever you are ready shoot my guy, I’m ready! I love to create and re create. I love God man. I love my family, I love this business man!

SAM: You and I just alike man.We have travelled quite a long journey hey.

ZENZO: I think we first met or worked together on “Stealers”. But brother Sam, you know I once saw you doing some singing with a church group way back. But back then I didn’t know I will someday be with you on screen.

SAM: Well actually, the first time we worked together was in 2006 on the set if the “Kings Kraal” not “Stealers”, but we did not know each other then.

ZENZO: Ahhhh yes man, that’s it. You’ve got a good memory.

SAM: You know I always wanted to work with you ‘Mr. Nyathi’. I saw you act on what is the best project to ever come out from this beautiful city, Bulawayo. I was drawn to your acting style but I was very young and shy to speak to people in general. And when I finally had some guts “Amakorokoza” was now off air (laughs).

ZENZO: You making me sound old (laughs). Thank you my guy! “Amakorokoza” was something man and we truly had a great time filming it.

SAM: That show was amazing and I loved how your character kept growing. ‘Mzambani’ was the darling of our television sets man. Oh I just remembered! Yah that group was called ‘Armed and Dangerous’, part of a Christian arts group at Dark 2 Light School of Arts. You’ve also got a good memory. You are right, I did start at church doing a lot of theatre and singing. through our Church A.L.L.C. But I envy you brother Zenzo because you do more stage work that I do.

ZENZO: Why do shy away from theatre?

SAM: I have leaned more toward film but theatre is my first love. I guess it’s because that’s what God has chosen for me. I love God and he chosen us to move on a path different from many of our colleagues. I mean look at how we stuck to the Arts and how many of those we grew up with who seemed to be passionate about stage, film, acting and just the whole art thing, left. It’s just a few of us who are still left standing. Bro, you know what man? This is a calling! Otherwise in this our country we would have given up, done something else. Art in whatever form is not taken seriously and the option to quit – it always rings so loud!

ZENZO: Art is in you my guy and not you in the Arts. The road is always never easy but persistence and consistency eventually gets you there. Though we still far from being at the top, we keep doing what we love to do. I always say to youngsters it’s not for chancers this Arts thing, it’s either you have it or you don’t, simple.

SAM: Yah that is so profound my brother. Some people make comments saying something like, “Oh so you are still doing this arts thing”, and I say to them “I don’t know how to do anything else” (laughs).

ZENZO: My business is the Arts! The entrepreneur of the house is my wife. She at one time was in the taxi business, but it wasn’t sustainable. Now she sells everything – rice, Tupperware, tables, my wife sells man! But for me my business is in the Arts. Although I want to venture into a bit of agriculture. The land is there and we can take it from there. But my business will still be in the Arts.

SAM: Employment creation is key in this business. And it would help if there was some kind of formality in the Arts. That way we will be able to achieve some kind of sustenance for not only ourselves and our families, but for others coming into the game as well.

ZENZO: While this employment creation part is partly correct, I also think we are at least making something. You know I have never seen myself as a star or big guy in the Arts. I just enjoy playing with everyone and learning from them too. The greatest challenge or let down is that these chancers are not worried about systems, formality or even at least appreciate in a little way our efforts (and respect the fact that we do exist brother). Hence I always say at the end of the day just “do you”.

SAM: “Do you” is such a Gen Z thing, But without some sort of coming together – Ubuntu, we won’t create even a foundation for the next generation.

ZENZO: The road or foundation was laid long back for all of us. We are sometimes too greedy hence it’s difficult to work together as a collective for the betterment of the Arts. We prefer working in silos and back biting each other. And when it comes to serious support from either government or corporates, we still have a long way to go. I say this because in terms of corporates it’s a two way stream, we ought to have something to offer that will make them soften up to support us. But we are not making content that captures the local imagination consistently. And in terms of government, honesty I’m not sure – it could just be ignorance on their part or old structures that need further development. Or maybe those representatives that speak to them on our behalf that are not solid on our needs, or they also don’t know what needs to be done. In the end it eventually creates silos amongst us and that won’t take us anywhere as an industry (that’s if we have any to begin with). We need each other in this craft (big time) more than we need awards, accolades, events or meetings.

SAM: (laughs). I hear you. However, as a Christian and an African I always come to learn. I believe we might not all be equal in skill, accolades or connections but we all have a part to play, no matter how big or small the production is. We are few who can say we have truly arrived in Zimbabwe. As for me, with every production I have chosen to grow together.

ZENZO: The journey of an individual is slow. You know that African proverb, “If you want to go faster, go alone. If you want to go further, go together!” There is power in us coming together. My whole journey started by working with others. My journey is kinda long man so allow me to summarize the beginnings. I joined Amakhosi Children’s program in February 1992, which is what, 30 years ago now. It was not easy, the joining part was a secret from the parents. They never supported the Arts. However, in 1994 I had my first European tour (to Norway), I had to lie to my father and say it was a school’s exchange program so that I get permission to go (it somehow worked). Now my family understands and supports me and I’ve gone further – the rest is history in the making.

SAM: (laughs) It’s so funny how our stories are somewhat similar. In the 90s my brother, my cousin and I developed this keen interest in acting so we just started writing scripts and rehearsing on our own. We did all this in secret because our parents (especially my father, who was then an assistant Pastor at the time) would not have it. To him a man is man when he works a normal job, 9am – 5pm. Anyway, years went by and opportunities opened in our youth ministry – we would participate and would win money, but my parents were surprised because they had never seen us rehearse or do anything close to the Arts. However, it was a senior Pastor that would speak to my parents when the School of Arts was invited to Zambia, Botswana, South Africa to perform. My father would just agree thinking I would of grown out of it by the time I finished high school just like my brother, but I never did (laughs). I did grow out of rap though. You know I wanted to be a rapper, a Christian version of DMX.

ZENZO: Serious!

SAM: Yah man, I would love to do just one full album. I kinda got back to rapping during Covid, maybe I’ll do one next year. Also, I would love to create more Christian content in this entertainment industry my guy. Honestly, I feel I have stories to tell about my relationship with God. When I was at school I would really struggle because of my Christian beliefs, which would make things just a little complicated. Everyone would find me a little strange but I didn’t mind. Even now, my values seem to be at odds with the industry. For example, just the other day I said to this cast member, “I don’t cheat on my wife”. Nearly everyone who was around or who heard my beliefs, thought I was so weird. One lady even had the guts to say me, “a man that does not cheat on his partner is very boring”. Then I said to her, “well I must be the most boring person on the earth then because I will never cheat”.

ZENZO: (laughs) It’s interesting the kinds of people this business attracts. Often you’ll find that are a lot of chancers there for pleasure not work. But do you my guy. The whole Christian entertainment thing. Now you are talking! I would even say it’s long overdue but believe that God’s time is the best.

SAM: Serious?

ZENZO: You should do it man! One scholar once said “Faith is taking the first step even if you don’t see the whole staircase”. I have faith we will travel the world telling our stories that embrace our values and beliefs. I even have faith the industry will work some day. Did I just say the industry? I have faith that our whole country will work too one day.

SAM: (laughs) Yes Baba! I’m with you in that faith! It will all work out in God’s time.

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