What Joe Mafela’s legacy means to me as a “born free”

by: Carlos Ncube - 20 March 2017


My first memory of Joe Mafela is that of him playing S’dumo, particularly the fact that he used to recycle teabags. His tendency to do this made him a running joke in my family. We’d always say we’d do the same if we fall on hard times. The news of his death this week really hit hard because I did not appreciate his talent until I was older.

Joe Mafela was a multi-talented artist

As a child I remember watching Sgudi Snaysi, and only ever laughing when I heard the  adults laughing at the things S’dumo would do or say because I did not understand the language. It was only when I started watching the reruns of Sgudi Snays that I registered Joe Mafela as a funny man. His excuses to Laqhasha about why he hadn’t paid back the money were hilarious and very extreme, like the one time he pretended to have broken all the bones on his body.

Joe Mafela was not only a great actor, but also a great musician. He inspired songs such as “Zodwa” by Trompies, which sampled a song of his titled “Thoko”. I think, to this day the question stands: ‘Thoko, ujola nobani?’

He made music that would make you want to get up and dance, and that’s coming from someone with two left feet.  One such song is “Shebeleza”, which he made for the 1996 Africa Cup of Nations.

His character on Generations: The Legacy will be sorely missed

Joe Mafela faded from my memory again until his appearance as uncle Tebogo on Generations: The Legacy. Joe Mafela’s ability to play both funny and serious characters is a symbol of his greatness.

As a born-free, growing up watching Joe Mafela was about the entertainment value that he brought. A big part of how we bonded as a family in the 90s was through watching Sgudi Snays’ while eating supper. When SABC was playing the reruns recently, my mother and I would watch it over breakfast.

Joe Mafela has an extensive inventory of art; from television, directing, producing and music. His presence made me feel like I knew him personally. His death has left a hole in my heart. He left us with a wealth of material with which to remember him.

His passing was tragic and unexpected. But I have come to believe that when the elders die, we should not mourn, but celebrate their lives and hold on to the lessons they left us with. I will remember him for his jovial laughter.