Bongani Ndlovu, Showbiz Correspondent
A dark cloud is hanging over the arts fraternity following the death of renowned playwright Stephen Chifunyise who succumbed to cancer on Monday evening.
Chifunyise, 70, has been described as a knowledgeable player in the arts industry whose passing will leave a huge gap in the development of the sector.
Intwasa director Raisedon Baya said the arts fraternity had lost a fountain of knowledge.
“He was a library of information; a policy and cultural expert that we utilised and his passing has left a huge void in the sector. That’s why we mourn him and at the same time celebrate what he has done for the sector,” said Baya.
He described Chifunyise, who was referred to as Uncle Steve, as the most humble person he has ever met.
“I’m yet to see a person that is humble and down to earth, who is so willing to share information. Even when he came to Intwasa, he would say that he wanted to come to Bulawayo and help. I was the one dodging him, until he just said put me on a bus and we did. He came and we conducted a workshop with him. He didn’t even ask about his money and left for Harare. It was after two weeks that we looked for him and he said we should just send him the money,” said Baya.
The director of the National Gallery of Zimbabwe in Bulawayo Butholezwe Kgosi Nyathi said he had known Chifunyise for years and his death was a sad loss to the arts sector.
“We’re devastated. It’s a big loss. He had the advantage of educational background and was a cultural scholar. He had the knowledge and expertise in UNESCO conventions in culture. This is the biggest void that has been left by Chifunyise. Many cultural organisations relied on him for that,” said Nyathi.
In a message of condolences, National Arts Council of Zimbabwe board chairperson Herbert Chimhundu, board members, director Nicholas Moyo, management and staff expressed their sincere condolences to the Chifunyise family, the arts fraternity and the nation at large on Chifunyise’s passing.
“Enveloped with intense anguish, sadness and complete helplessness, the National Arts Council of Zimbabwe and the arts fraternity learnt of the heartbreaking passing of the iconic and revered figure in the creative and cultural industry, the affable and irreplaceable Stephen Chifunyise. An arts administrator endowed with unparalleled skills, vision and utmost creative ingenuity, he has left an indelible mark in the sector,” read the statement.
Chronicling Chifunyise’s contribution to the arts sector, the NACZ said he was instrumental in nurturing the arts industry in the country.
“He was a coach, mentor and playwright whose works watered the development of professional actors in Zimbabwe, in both stage and film acting. One of his sterling accomplishments was the establishment of CHIPAWO, together with Robert Mclaren.
“Uncle Steve was also very instrumental in the formation of the Zimbabwe Association of Community Theatre (ZACT) alongside the late Kenyan, Ngugi wa Mirii, the organisation that played a pivotal role in shaping the growth and development of theatre in Zimbabwe,” read the statement.
American based actress Danai Gurira who starred in the super hero block buster Black Panther is among many who graduated from CHIPAWO.
Chifunyise was appointed on the board of the NACZ in 2004 and was awarded an Arts Service Award at the 2016 edition of the National Art Merit Awards.
The statement said the industry had lost a father figure as Chifunyise was an expert in UNESCO conventions in culture and heritage.
“Indeed, as Zimbabweans, particularly practitioners in the creative and cultural industries we have lost a legend, father figure, coach and mentor who was an exceptional arts and culture policy expert whose knack of understanding UNESCO Conventions, culture and heritage frameworks and policies was unmatched,” read the statement.
“Under his wise guidance, the Mbende-Jerusarema Dance was proclaimed an intangible cultural heritage for humanity by UNESCO. His articulation of arts and culture issues with clarity and deep understanding shall remain etched in our minds for a long time. This explains why he remained one of the respected UNESCO Team of experts that impacted the consolidation of Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) in many African countries.”
Chifunyise was involved in the Intwasa Festival koBulawayo where he taught a dance workshop in 2015. He has over 70 plays to his name.