Last bow for Ntate Mohlamme

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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!


Ntate Mohlamme

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