uKhahlamba Zulu Dance

The story focuses onPhilani Makhaza, who was born to a bricklayer father who worked all his life in Johannesburg. His father had three wives and 13 kids. Makhaza was raised by his grandparents in KwaZulu-Natal. In 1994, after matriculating, he moved to Johannesburg, living in the Madala hostel, sharing a room with his brother. He worked in the family business as a taxi. It didn’t take long for Makhaza to realise that the only activities at the hostel were football and isicathamiya (Ladysmith Black Mambazo-style music) so he and a friend, organised a meeting with the elders to discuss how they could keep young people off the streets and away from alcohol. Makhaza had been exposed to dance since childhood, when his father was an igosa (group dance leader).

Eventually Ukhahlamba Zulu Dancers was formed in 1997 with 18 members drawn from the hostel. Makhaza threw himself into the group, introducing different styles of dance and singing, and was later given the position of igosa, like his father.

The dance the group performs is called “Mzansi”. It originated in Makhaza’s hometown of Bergville. The elders say it was first performed in the 1820s, during the era of Shaka Zulu, and was designed to prepare warriors who were about to go into battle. The dance is extremely physical and tactical: the beating of the drum evokes the dancers’ feelings and makes them aggressive. There is a lot of pushing and coordination. The beat of the drum and the landing of the foot is important. The dancers must know how to communicate and be able to entertain and capture the audience. Passed on from generation to generation, the Mzansi dance is a powerful reminder of Shaka Zulu’s reign.

Despite that the dancers rehears in a in a huge open space used as a kitchen hostel, with gas stoves blazing and a fire that lights up the room. The group has performed and competed in many parts of the country and has won numerous competitions and awards. It was invited to Dubai in 2011 to participate in the Dubai Festival. Besides competing, the group also performs at weddings, parties and concerts for a certain fee.

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