There will never be another Mafela

> Thandisizwe Mgudlwa and Sharon Kavhu

SO Joe Mafela is no more. He was 75.

Bra Joe’ as he was fondly known passed on in the evening of last Saturday, March 18, after the vehicle he was travelling in was hit by a bakkie from behind.

As an internationally acclaimed actor, songwriter, film producer, director, singer, and a businessman, Joe Mafela, was hailed as the face of South African entertainment.

He had been in the film and television industry for over 53 years.

And apart from featuring in most of the local TV series, Mafela also performed in various international features and commercials.

He was also praised and had the ‘distinction’ of being the first black assistant director in South Africa.

His production involvement in international feature films include, ‘Tokoloshe Diamond Walkers’; ‘Africa Audio Game of Vultures’; ‘Gold Escape from Angola’; ‘Red Scorpion Shout at the Devil (locally and abroad)’; ‘Freedom Fighters Tigers Don’t Cry’, amongst others.

The TV series included, ‘Udeliwe’, a classical homemade comedy ‘Sgudi ‘Snaysi’ where Mafela acted as a troublesome tenant, Sdumo; ‘Going Up, Khululeka’ (first voter education programme) before the first democratic elections of 1994, ‘Madam and Eve’ and ‘Fela’s TV Shooting Stars’, among others.

Mafela’s glorious career was mostly dominated by film, television and stage acting.

Joe Mafela made his acting debut in 1964, when he appeared in the feature movie “Real News” directed by Peter Hunt. In this film he played the character of an Editor.

He was only 22 years old when he started doing films.

In a 2014 interview celebrating 50 years of his illustrious career, published by the South African version of The New Age newspaper, Bra Joe recalled how a South African newspaper back in 1964, right at the beginning of a career, ran an interview they had done with him with a story headlined, ‘A star is born’.

Mafela remembered after seeing the 1964 interview how he was terribly shocked at this crazy suggestion that he was a ‘New Star’. ‘I thought that reporter didn’t know what he was talking about,” Bra Joe confided to The New Age.

However, the headline would prove to be spot-on and prophetic as Mafela went on to become a leading celebrated personality in the entertainment industry.

In 1974, Mafela co-starred in South Africa’s first black feature film, ‘Udeliwe’ with Cynthia Shange.

In the film, he played the role of Peter Pleasure, a Malawian.

His magical performance in the movie helped connect him to Soweto’s movie lovers and ultimately the rest of the country as well, with many young men mimicking his lines.

In fact, it was the role of Peter Pleasure that made a lasting impression in many who saw ‘Udeliwe’ than the movie itself.

‘Shout at the devil’ was shot at Brodestroom, west of Pretoria, near Haartebeespoort Dam. The movie was made during the 1976 Soweto riots.

During the 1980s, his television career took off. Mafela starred in a Zulu language sitcom ‘Sgudi ‘Snaysi’, which translates to ‘it’s good, it’s nice’ in English, in which he portrayed the character of Sdumo. 

This sitcom became a major hit in black television as it ran up to 78 episodes on the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC).

Mafela had established a great working relationship with the SABC and that is where he started doing advertising through the BBDO, as a creative director.

He did a lot of work producing, voice-overs, radio materials and advertising.

Just around the end of 1995, Joe Mafela released his first music album with Gallo Records in Johannesburg.

The album titled ‘Shebeleza’ became a huge success. The title track, ‘Shebeleza’, was used as a theme song during the Africa Cup of Nations in 1996, which South Africa hosted for the first time and won it.

He has since released three more albums in his musical career. His lyrics are a combination of South Africa’s official languages and local lingua franca.

In 2005, Mafela was awarded the Theatre Management of South Africa Lifetime Achievement award at the Naledi Theatre Awards.

He was born in 1942 in Sibasa, Limpopo Province.

His father worked as a shop assistant in a Chinese shop in Sophiatown. When Mafela was three years old he left Johannesburg along with his mother, who was expecting her second child.

They returned to Limpopo where his brother was also born. Mafela’s family moved to Kliptown, south of Johannesburg in 1947. The family remained in Kliptown for five years.

In 1952, they moved to White City, Jabavu, a township that was conceived as temporary shelters for many black families removed from one of the squatter settlement that sprang up in Soweto in the 1940s.

Mafela’s family remained in White City for another five years before moving to Tshiawelo Township. This move was consistent with the expectations of local authorities at the time.

Tshiawelo was set aside for blacks considered to have originally come from the Limpopo Province. These included the Venda (Mafela is a Venda), the Tsonga and to a lesser extent, the Balobedu. Mafela’s family was resident in Tshiawelo until 1990.


Meanwhile, South African Minister of Arts and Culture, Nathi Mthethwa, has described the late South African legendary actor, director and musician, Joe Mafela, as a “great artist and a truly generous man”.

In his condolence message, Mthethwa said South Africa has lost a crown jewel of arts and culture.

“We are shocked and saddened by the passing of a great artist and a truly generous man. Baba Joe Mafela. The nation has lost an extraordinary son of the soil,” said Mthethwa.

“He was multi-talented, multi-skilled and much loved. He was relevant and we salute his life-long contributions to South Africa arts and culture.  We convey our strength and heartfelt condolences to the Mafela family, his friends and numerous fans.

“The nation has lost a crown jewel of arts and culture.”

Mthethwa said Joe Mafela was a household name as he spent decades on big and small screens acting out a countless number of roles, which showed his versatility as an actor.

“His role as the character, Sdumo in ‘Sgudi Snaysi’ (It’s good, it’s nice) remains in the consciousness and cultural imagination of the nation as a whole.  But he was also a producer, director, an advertising director and a musician.  He made several hit songs including ‘Shebeleza’, which came to dominate the airwaves and became a theme song for AFCON 1996,” Mthethwa said.

In recent times, he acted on ‘Generations: The Legacy’ as Tebogo Moroka.

March 2017
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