Remarks by Minister Nathi Mthethwa at the funeral of legendary artist Bra Joe Mafela

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29 Mar 2017

Programme Director, Mr Kid Sithole

Mam Andy Mafela and the Mafela family

Minister Ngoako Ramatlhodi

Deputy Minister Rejoice Mabudafhasi

Premier David Makhura

MEC Faith Mazibuko

Mr Lutfo Dlamini, representing Their Excellencies, the Queen Mother and King of Swaziland

Vhamusanda vho- Ligege (Chief of Duthuni Village)

Reverend PB Mokele

Dr Vukile Mehana

Chair of the Living Legends Legacy Programme, Mr Welcome Msomi,

Deputy Chair Mam Letta Mbulu and other Legends present here today

Mr Tony Kgoroge, President of CCIFSA

Acting CEO of the SABC, Mr James Aguma

Leadership of the Arts Sector

Distinguished artists present

Esteemed representatives of youth and arts organisations present

Fellow mourners

Ladies and Gentlemen:

He could inspire laughter when there could have been tears.

He held us in his thrall to liberate us.

And in his acting we recognized ourselves, people we knew and what it means to be South African.

Of course, I am describing none other than the legend, Bra Joe Mafela.

He had a creative vision, which he shared with us in many different ways through his varied roles over 5 decades as actor, musician, playwright, producer, director, advertising director, co-owner of a film company.

Over decades he remained at the centre-stage of his craft by re-inventing himself, making strategic use of opportunities or creating them himself.

The nation has been shocked and saddened with his passing as his contribution to the creative industry is unsurpassed.

For decades he has loomed large, and we came to know S’dumo as if he was someone we encountered in our daily lives. Sgudi Snaysi or S’dumo - whichever way we affectionately referred to him – he touched our lives.

He could have been speaking about Joe Mafela, when Prof Ngugi wa Thiong’o writes about the importance of the legitimacy of local knowledge, the capacity to speak multiple languages across and between cultures in order for the artist or the intellectual to “swim in the sea of our connections with our common humanity.”

It was precisely this authentic voice - which is the true mark of Bra Joe Mafela as an actor, having imbibed local knowledge and speaking in the languages of the people - that we will remember and hold aloft as an example to others.

He did not look down on others and celebrated our diversity and unity as South Africans.

Mafela was versatile, inimitable, generous to the core and indeed swam in the sea of our connections with a common humanity.

He seized the day and broke barriers even during the darkest decades of apartheid. He expanded the possibilities for black actors and the characters they depict both in film and on television.

In his own way, he demonstrated that black lives matter.

By asserting characters with powerful personalities, he fought a system that had sought to reify, belittle and denigrate black lives. Through his characterization, he effected a quiet revolution because for the first time black characters were being depicted on their own terms and not through the eyes of others.

How hard it must have been when he started his artistic journey more than 50 years ago when the impact of colonial, segregationist and apartheid policies had led to the dispossession of the indigenous African majority.

How difficult it must have been to witness the destruction of communities, resulting in deculturation, the radical weakening of African identity, and the destruction of the traditional value system.

But for him art was an answer, a way of laughing, a way of overcoming obstacles and inspiring, while providing a chance at healing.

Even then he and his generation experienced the viciousness of a racist system and actors had to face productions being banned and had to seek permission for staging if the audiences were to be mixed lest they contravened the draconian laws of apartheid.

Later his singing of “Shebeleza” made us think that we were part of a winning team uniting as one nation.

In recent years, he was an active and enthusiastic member of our Living Legends Legacy Programme and was happy to share his knowledge with younger generations.

Bra Joe Mafela represents for us the nurturing of a national will and a national culture, the beginnings of the full realization of a people’s culture. I think that he would agree with Amilcar Cabral, who said that culture is simultaneously the product, the fruit of a people’s history and that national liberation is an act of culture.

Thus as an accomplished artist, Bra Joe Mafela’s contribution heralded the start of something wonderful, beautiful and new in our history and culture; an embrace of the extraordinary lengths that ordinary people go to survive and thrive, to resist and overcome.

This is how a truly national culture comes into being.

This is the mark that Bra Joe Mafela has left.

Now it is our duty to pick up his baton and to live according to his values, taking forward his creative vision of a united South African culture.

We shall not forget him.

We remember him alongside other greats we have lost in recent months and years: Mam Thandi Klaasen, among them, gospel artists Lundi Tyamara, Kwaito star, Mandoza; and of course fellow actors like Shadrack Ngema (Magubane), Ronald Mqwebu (Mkhize), Nyembezi Kunene (Mchunu), Bafana Mlangeni and Sammy Moeti.

News has also come of the passing of renowned Gospel artist, Matlakala Ramothoka of Matlakala and Comforter and her family is also in our thoughts and prayers.

We salute Bra Joe also on this day as we lay to rest Comrade Ahmed Kathrada, that doyen of our national democratic revolution. These sad passings, as we say goodbye to extraordinary and exemplary South Africans and the end of an era, must strengthen our commitment to building anew.

They would have wanted us to continue to fight racism and discrimination in all aspects of our national life.

They would want us to fulfil their dreams of a peaceful and prosperous country characterized by unity, non-racialism, non-sexism and the deepening democracy.

To Joe Mafela’s wife, Andy, to his family and friends, his counterparts both in the acting fraternity and the creative industry as a whole and to his fellow legends especially those on the Steering Committee of The Living Legends Legacy Programme chaired by Bra Welcome Msomi, we say God be with you, because this too shall pass.

Bon Voyage S’dumo