CityLife Arts

Joburg City Theatres loses two theatre executives as Nomsa Mazwai and Makhaola Ndebele leave

Mazwai’s exit from Soweto Theatre follows shortly after that of Joburg City Theatres artistic director Makhaola Ndebele, whose contract was not renewed, CITYLIFE/ARTS understands.

By Edward Tsumele

Musician, activist and young theatre administrator Nomsa Mazwai  is leaving Soweto Theatre after five years at the helm as the institution’s general manager.

Mzwai was appointed to this position over five years ago, and her appointment was hailed as a triumph for especially young people as the youngest of the three Mazwai sisters represented young blood in theatre management in the country. Nomsa, is the younger sister to poet Ntsiki Mazwai and musician Thandiswa Mazwai

Her leaving the Soweto based theatre, only a few years after another talented creative  actress and theatre director Warona Seane left the position of artistic manager at the same institution under unclear circumstances could be seen as a reversal of the attempts  the theatre has made in especially putting young people at the forefront of poularising theatre in the township.

 It is unclear why Mazwai has left the theatre, but according to a statement released  by her yesterday, there appears to be no hard feelings on her part. Often senior positions oat theatres such artistic director, general manager of chief executive officer  are subject to renewal for another five year term in order to enable the theatre to be stable and realize its artistic vision.

However Mazwai’s exit from the Soweto Theatre owned  by the City of Johannesburg alongside the Roodepoort Theatre and Joburg Theatre, under the holding entity Joburg City Theatres, follows the exiting of another talented playwright Makhaola Ndebele, who CITYLIFE/ARTS understands has just completed his term as artistic director at Joburg City Theatres in charge of programming all the three theatres under the entity.

CITYLIFE/ARTS understands that his contract, just like that of Mazwai was not  renewed.

Mazwai took over the position of general manager from Carl Johnson, who has not made it a secret that he was not happy at the Soweto theatre when he resigned.

In short the theatre has not experienced stability when it comes to its top management since it was started a few years ago.  The three theatres running under the auspices of Joburg City Theatres need an annual running budget of slightly more than !00 million, slightly more than half of it coming from the City of Johannesburg as subsidy and the rest must come from the theatres themselves through rentals, hospitality activities and sponsorships.

.However during the five years Mazwai was at the helm she contributed to the profile of the arts institution. Prior to COVID, Mazwai and her team had doubled attendance numbers to the theatre. This is no small feat, especially in the arts industry, where attracting audiences to theatre spaces, is a huge challenge. Mazwai attributes her success to  “partnerships with Soweto producers, existing client retention and collaborative marketing and promotion activities.’

Mazwai’s  term at the theatre, saw the theatre grow their outdoor eventing  portfolio which after COVID may come in handy as, even after we are vaccinated, it is unlikely that people will want to gather in huge numbers indoors. Mazwai managed the facility, leading a team of over 30 while also making a contribution towards the programming of the theatre.”‘In terms of running the facility, my favourite part was doing the weekly walkabouts with the buildings and security team and monitoring the maintenance of the building. During my time, we planted lawns around our building and it became a regular practice for the entire team to clear and pick us. As a result, Soweto Theatre really is the diamond of Soweto. In terms of rentals, my favorite rental clients were my sisters. They both brought important performances to the space and paid full price! In terms of partnerships, Basadi Ka DiTuku has to be the most iconic.”

During her tenure, the Soweto Theatre also strengthened their set works program which stages school setworks and attracts audiences from schools. When asked about this program Mazwai responds, ‘I worked closely with the Community and Audience Development Manager MakhosazanaHlatsywayo to build this program and while I’ll gladly take the credit, I must be honest, Khosi did most of the heavy lifting.  Public entities such as the theatre, should strive to assist with nation building. Theatres, I think, make an important contribution to ensuring all learners access learning. Sometimes, a book is easier to understand when seen on stage.

 ‘it was an honour and a privilege to work at the Soweto Theatre serving the people of Soweto. I was lead by two strong women Xoliswa Nduneni Ngema  my CEO and Bridget Mashika my line manager. I grew as a leader under their stewardship and I will forever be grateful for the contribution they have made in developing me as a leader.”

Mazwai leavesthe theatre to focus on building her own organisation #FunkItImWalking which aims to make it safe enough for a woman to walk at anytime of day in any condition. For further information on this organisation visit www.funkitimwalking.co.za

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