Last bow for Ntate Mohlamme
There is a silence across the land, like the hush before the end of a play. It’s a kind of peace, a stillness soon to be followed by the applause of an approving audience after a performance of distinction and magic.
Amid the ovation, the thespian waves and bows. The lights go dim and, as the curtain falls, he turns and leaves for the firmament, where the stars await.
The legendary man of letters, Thomas Boikie Mohlamme, is no more.
Ntate Mohlamme, as he was known, was born on September 5 1930 in the idyllic North West village of Lefurutshane near Groot Marico. He was the second child in a family of six brothers and a sister. As a young man he became resentful of the Bantustan system, which he saw as dispossessing the African majority, and left the then Bophuthatswana for Johannesburg.
There he lived until his passing on August 27, at the Charlotte Maxeke Academic Hospital, a few days before his 84th birthday.
A selfless man and a fearless opponent of apartheid and exploitation, Ntate Mohlamme was among the earliest pioneers of protest theatre in South Africa. He worked alongside other greats like Gibson Kente and Sam Mangwane. A doyen of the Soweto Theatre, he is remembered for plays like Matlhomola, Amen and Lord Why, which attracted the retributive ire of the apartheid police.
An ANC underground activist during the struggle, he was a survivor of police brutality and harassment, which failed to break his spirit and his resolve in the fight for freedom and democracy in his beloved motherland.
Many have told how he used his theatre bus to transport youths out of the country to military training in exile. The young lions would be disguised as members of the cast, gaining easy passage into Botswana in pursuit of the liberation struggle.
The 1980s saw Ntate Mohlamme establish one of the earliest black-owned casting agencies. As well as producing and directing television drama series, his agency also trained and mentored black producers and the black-owned production companies that later emerged.
Ntate Mohlamme was a founding member of the small trade union Performing Artists and Workers’ Equity. Pawe later merged with the Musicians’ Union of South Africa to form the Creative Workers Union of South Africa in 2007. He was later an executive member of this Cosatu-affiliated union which represents actors, writers, musicians and production professionals.
Feared by broadcast bosses and loved by stage and television workers, Ntate Mohlamme was a fierce and long-time campaigner for the rights of the men, women and children who have graced South Africa’s theatres and its small and big screens. He was instrumental in forcing broadcasters to pay actors and production personnel for broadcast repeats of their films and dramas.
He acted in the SABC2 dramas such as Bonweenwee and Bophelo ke Semphekgo, and directed many others, including Mmalonya. His movie credits were for acting roles in Final Cut (1989), Warriors from Hell (1990), Taxi to Soweto (1991) and ’n Pot Vol Winter (1992).
He married the love of his life, celebrated actress Roseline Morapedi who died in a car crash in September 1997. Their union was blessed with four children, Lindi (who died in 2005), Emmanuel, Hope and Charity. He also had five grandchildren. As he departs into the light of the afterlife, we who love him, wish him the Lord’s grace and peace.
Robala ka kagiso senatla, legadimela ntweng, Kgabo, Moshate!