Veteran actor Joe Mafela. Picture: Paballo Thekiso

South African actors, musicians, artists, government officials, and the public on Thursday described the late legendary actor Joe Mafela as a humble, disciplined, and down to earth person who brought a smile to many people's faces for decades. 

Mafela was being honoured in an emotional yet jubilant memorial service at Joburg Theatre following his death in a car crash in Johannesburg at the weekend aged 75.

Mafela's brother, Paula Mafela, said the family was devastated by his passing because he was always a jolly person. 

Paula said he was Joe's companion on many of his travels domestically and abroad to the point that some people feared that if anything happened to any of them, it would happen when they were together. "Joe was a loving person, a person you would never find angry at anyone at any given time.

We always travelled together overseas and to our homeland in Venda, and he would never travel without me," Paula said. Mafela's son Jimmy Mafela, who played a drum in tribute to his father, remembered him as a drummer and a coordinator of their family gatherings. 

"My father was a coordinator. Even if it was stokvels or anything, he was always putting people together and he was passionate about the arts in South Africa, especially black people.

According to him, all you actors here were supposed to be in Broadway," Jimmy said. Born in Sibasa, Limpopo, and raised in Kliptown and Tshiawelo in Soweto, Johannesburg, he began his career in 1965 when he had his acting debut in the film “Real News” where he played an editor. In 1974 he starred in South Africa’s first black feature film “Udeliwe” which gained him a new following among moviegoers. 

During the 1980s his television career blossomed with “Sgudi Snaysi”. He also became a creative director in the advertising industry and also focused on producing. He became a co-owner of Penguin Films. He began releasing highly successful musical albums. 

He won numerous awards including a Loerie award for his advertising work and best actor in comedy at the South African Film and Television Awards (Safta). He also received an Emmy nomination. In recent times he acted on “Generations: the Legacy”. 

Surviving actors with whom Mafela played in the famous "Sgudi Snaysi", Thembi Mtshali-Jones and Mlangeni Nawa, were also among those who came to pay their tributes to the veteran actor. 

Veteran actresses Abigail Kubheka and Mary Twala, poets Don Mattera and Wally Serote, also attended the memorial service. 

Tony Kgoroge, actor and president of Cultural and Creative Industries Federation of South Africa, said Mafela did not escape the exploitation in the film and broadcast industry, and urged the SABC to pay artists their due royalties.

"Ntate Joe comes from a generation of people who encouraged us. But Ntate Joe Mafela did not escape exploitation of our industry. 

In as much as he was a great man, very humble person, quite and never wanted to entertain nonsense, we would be lying if we say he was never exploited in our industry. But I am glad that he rose above it," Kgoroge said. 

Generations creator and producer, Mfundi Vundla, said he came full circle through working with Mafela, and called for the SABC to rename Studio 5 where Generations is shot to "Joe Mafela studios."

"After I came back from California after 21-year period in exile, he heard I was around and he invited me to a studio in Midrand. I was so excited to see him I said we must make a film. But unfortunately that never happened, and the next thing I ended working with him in Generations," Vundla said. "I am privileged to have worked with Mafela. I came full circle with him."

Mafela is survived by his wife, three sons and a daughter and six grandchildren.