Simon Bruinders. Picture: Supplied

He has been in the public eye for 35 years and after 22 television series and a dozen films, it was time for the South African acting industry to recognise a true South African legend. 

Early this month, the South African Film and Television Awards (Saftas) honoured Simon Bruinders with a Lifetime Achievement Award for his lifelong, excellent and dedicated contribution to the performance arts. 

In 1984 the Western Cape-born schoolteacher sacrificed a stable career to pursue his true passion – acting and writing dramas.

Choosing the stage over the classroom especially during his formative years was not an easy decision to make for the married father of four children, but he followed his calling. It was like dreaming the impossible dream but one that eventually became a reality. 

And despite the unpredictable nature of the acting industry, he persevered with dignity and diligence – giving his best to all the roles he was cast in. Subsequently, he offered audiences memorable characters that have since inspired younger and aspirant actors to follow in his footsteps.

Bruinders made his screen debut in 1984 when he starred as Kierries Kammies, a coloured preacher in the Afrikaans movie, Broer Matie. The film script is based on Matie Olivier, a respected white farmer in his community of Klein Karoo. After his death the family discovers that his will determines that a coloured reverend should minister over his funeral service.

But it is 1961, the year South Africa declared itself a republic and it’s during the dark days of apartheid. So this is a delicate matter that the white church should carefully consider.

It was a powerful role that would soon open avenues for more contribution on both the stage and screen. On the other hand, he was writing and directing his own plays. So in the following 35 years he would feature in more than twenty television dramas – notably Soutmansland, Egoli: Plek van Goud, Jozi Streets and 7de Laan. 

Many SABC1 viewers of dramas in the late 1990s would remember him as Mr Malgas in the series, Molo Fish (1997).

It was a role that many empathised with as the concerned father tried to steer his rebellious, teenage son, Darryl (David Meyer) on the straight and narrow.

The first season of the 13-part series is based in Noordgesig, a coloured community on the eastern fringes of Soweto. 

This gripping political thriller focuses on the impact of apartheid on several coloured families. It illustrates how the system of white superiority affected, influenced and poisoned their lives particularly through an inferior education system.

Increasingly aware of these injustices, Darryl changes from a shy and respectful youngster into a bitter and angry student activist who is determined to challenge the system.

After orchestrating the student boycott of Republic Day (31 May 1961) at his school, Coronationville High, he realises that the school authorities are about to find him guilty and decides to skip the country and undergo military training in exile. 

Like Broer Matie, this series remains one of the best critiques of the apartheid years on screen. Born in the small coloured community of Pacaltsdorp, George in the Western Cape, Bruinders qualified and worked as a teacher before he became involved in the arts on a fulltime basis.

In 1980 he was posted to Sasol in Secunda, a coal mining and industrial centre in Mpumalanga where he worked as a personnel officer, doing public relations between the workers and their employers. 

He was also responsible for setting up cultural centres in the communities of Secunda – particularly theatre groups. Rehearsals were mainly done in the lounge of his house. 

The place would be converted into a garage, bar, hospital room or any location depending on the nature of the play. It was around this time that he landed a lead role in Jan Rautenbach’s Broer Matie, a stage production that was later incarnated into a popular Afrikaans movie.

Bruinders has also distinguished himself as a television presenter of various documentary programmes. As a writer he has contributed significantly in industrial theatre relating to issues such as occupational safety and productivity. 

His novel, The Sideboard is a slave narrative and romantic fiction based on the experiences of his coloured forebears who participated in the Second World War. His son, Alvin Bruinders is also an actor.

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