Tributes flow in for actor Mafela

NATIONAL TREASURE: South African entertainment industry stalwart Joe Mafela in a car accident
NATIONAL TREASURE: South African entertainment industry stalwart Joe Mafela in a car accident

Political parties united in praise for veteran entertainer

Those close to veteran actor Joe Mafela are grappling to come to terms with his death at the age of 75 at the weekend. Mafela died after being involved in a collision on the M1 North in Johannesburg on Saturday night. A culpable homicide investigation is under way.

At Mafela’s house in Kew‚ his niece, Millicent “Milly” Mulelu, said the entire family was in shock following his death.

“It was unexpected and we thought we would have him around for a little while longer‚” she said.

Mulelu said when the family received the phone call in the early hours of yesterday‚ it was like a bad dream.

“Joe’s side of the car was untouched in the accident so for us to find out that he had died was a massive shock,” she said.

“But we are a praying family and we have been praying for strength and understanding in the hours since the accident.”

Mulelu spoke fondly of her uncle‚ who she would remember as the person who always made everyone laugh.

She recounted how happy Mafela was when he went on a family trip last month.

“Joe went on a boat cruise with some members of the family earlier this month and was surrounded by fans who wanted to take pictures with him,” Mulelu said.

“He was so happy and relaxed and we did not doubt for a second that he was in a good space.”

Mulelu said the family was grateful for the love the country showed him.

“We want the nation to know that he worked hard for them and we thank them for the love they have given him.

“We understood that we shared him with the nation and we are grateful to them for embracing him,” she said.

Police confirmed that Mafela was killed in a car accident at about 10pm on Saturday on the M1 North between the Oxford and Houghton Road off-ramps.

Political parties have paid tribute to the award-winning veteran actor.

The ANC said Mafela had been a pioneer in the entertainment industry.

“Joe Mafela was [also] an internationally acclaimed songwriter,” the ANC said.

“His title track‚ Shebeleza‚ was used as a theme song for the 1996 Africa Cup of Nations‚ in which South Africa were crowned champions.”

The DA said Mafela’s legacy would live on in the hearts of South Africans forever.

“A constant feature during our childhoods‚ through his work in television‚ theatre‚ film and music‚ Joe has made us cry‚ made us laugh and made us think,” the DA said. “He was a celebrated entertainer‚ who was awarded the Theatre Management of South Africa Lifetime Achievement Award at the Naledi Theatre Awards and became the first black person to be awarded a Grand Prix at the Loerie Awards.

“Joe was a stalwart of the South African entertainment industry‚ and we will never see the likes of him again‚” the party said.

Congress of the People (COPE) said Mafela had made South Africa proud.

“We have lost one of the greatest talents in this country. Mafela played a huge role in the development of acting talent in this country‚” the party said.

The Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) said that “through the film industry and his musical capabilities, [Mafela] helped to liberate his country”.

“One should remember his hit song Shebeleza, which is a struggle liberation song,” it said.

The Economic Freedom Fighters praised the “strides taken by Mafela to uplift and create a solid identity for black people in the entertainment industry when it was not fashionable to do so”.

“We celebrate his resilience and dedication to embodying and narrating the stories of black people in a world that always silences or distorts them‚” the EFF said.

Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa said the country had lost “an extraordinary son of the soil”.

“We are shocked and saddened by the passing of a great artist and a truly generous man‚ Baba Joe Mafela,” Mthethwa said.

“He was multi-talented and multiskilled‚ much loved and much revered. We salute his lifelong contribution to South African arts and culture.

“We convey our strength and heartfelt condolences to the Mafela family‚ to his friends and numerous fans.

“Joe Mafela is a household name to all of us as he spent decades on the big and small screens acting out a countless number of roles . . . But he was also a producer‚ a director‚ an advertising director and a musician.”

Born in Sibasa‚ Limpopo‚ and raised in Kliptown and Tshiawelo‚ Soweto‚ Mafela began his career in 1965 when he had his acting debut in the film Real News in which he played an editor. In 1974 he starred in South Africa’s first black feature film‚ Udeliwe, which gained him a new following among movie-goers‚ Mthethwa noted.

During the 1980s, his television career blossomed with Sgudi ‘Snaysi.

He won numerous awards, including a Loerie for his advertising work and an SA Film and Television award (Safta) for best actor in a comedy. He also received an Emmy nomination.

In recent times‚ he acted in Generations: the Legacy.

About his sustained success‚ Mafela once said in an interview that acting was never about fame and money.

“It has been about passion. That is why some of us are still here 50 years on.”

Mafela’s funeral arrangements have still to be finalised.

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