Walter Chakela, artistic director at the Windybrow Theatre.
Walter Chakela, artistic director at the Windybrow Theatre.

Kefuoe Walter Chakela: A giant tree has fallen

By Don Makatile Time of article published May 24, 2020

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The humility of renowned playwright and poet Kefuoe Walter Chakela belied the stature of the giant that he was.

He had no airs and graces despite the rich tapestry of his body of work.

Chakela died on the evening of Friday May 15 at his home in Midrand aged 67.

He will be laid to rest on Saturday, May 30 in Mahikeng, North West.

Born in Hlotse, Lesotho, he moved to Huhudi, Vryburg with his late parents Chateau and Harriet Chakela at an early age.

Up to this day, the North West is considered to be his birthplace, albeit erroneously. He began school there and went on to put the then Bophuthatswana homeland in the map of the arts with his talents.

Perhaps it is the National Writers' Association of SA (Nwasa), of which he was founding president, that best captures the essence of the man: “Nana Chakela is a father to an entire generation of artists under his tutelage across all social contours in South Africa, a peer to a congregation of bards no words are enough to decorate them with, a thought-leader, lateral thinker, visionary, magnetic leader and listener to all voices, and an arts administrator.”

Despite this colourful decoration and being feted like royalty of the arts on the continent, Chakela remained a modest man showering even lesser mortals with respect.

On Africa Day - May 25, 2018 - Nana Chakela brought together erstwhile members of the Congress of Southern African Writers (Cosaw) and AWA to his Kwa-Langa Estate, Midrand, in order to form Nwasa, says Dr Lebogang Lance Nawa, secretary-general of Nwasa.

When this writer met ntate Chakela in person for the first time, it was during the latter’s spat with his business partner Ailsa Tulloch, which adversely affected his health.

Chakela suffered a debilitating stroke a few years ago and spoke with pronounced difficulty after not seeing eye to eye with Tulloch over the affairs of their company LCAT Productions.

But he remained a gentleman throughout the fracas, referring to Tulloch as a lady.

Morakabe Raks Seakhoa, convenor of the South African Literary Awards and Africa Century International African Writers' Conference says: “The South African arts, culture, heritage and media world, especially the literary and performance arts components thereof, have lost a true lighthouse.

“It’s an understatement that our library has burnt. We continue to feel the tremors of a giant baobab tree that left a deep gaping hole after its resounding fall. To me personally, Bro Walter was more than a brother: he was a mentor, coach, counsellor, an exemplar of a simple good human being par excellence.

“Though we both hail from the North West province, we only came to know each other more in Joburg in the late 1980s, first at Cosaw in my capacity as Transvaal regional co-ordinator, and later as a secretary-general and him as a member and later president of the same organisation.

“After my departure from Cosaw, we established and ran - at the Windybrow Centre for the Arts where he was the chief executive - the most popular and longest-running weekly poetry reading and literary discourse programme well into the early 2000s.

“Up to the point of his passing away, we’d been working together in the literary world through the many outreach programmes of the wRite associates, the South African Literary Awards (Sala) where he was a judge and the Africa Century International African Writers' Conference, the latter wherein he was a speaker and panelist in efforts to re-establish an all-encompassing national writers’ organisation.”

Nwasa is more proud to recall that Chakela produced and adapted for stage such works as Bessie Head’s novel, Maru.

At that stage, Maru was a high school set-work.

He also directed Blame Me On History, an adaptation of Bloke Modisane’s autobiography by Mothobi Mutloatse, James Mthoba’s Mehlondini, his own play Crisis of Conscience, as well as Zakes Mda’s We Shall Sing for the Fatherland and You Fool, How Can the Sky Fall?

Nwasa says the sum total of plays he has produced is 23 and that he directed many others per invitation or commissions.

“Among a galaxy of actors who appeared in his plays, including at the Windowbrow, are: Peter Sephuma, Nomsa Nene, Sello Make ka Ncube, Job Kubatsi, Nomsa Manaka, Owen Sejake, Arthur Molepo, John Ledwaba, Patrick Shai, Thembi Mtshali, Margaret Williams, Dieketseng Mnisi, Tinah Mnumzana, Alister Dube, Nomsa Nene, Nomhle Nkonyeni, Shoki Maredi, Pamela Nomvete, Xoli Norman, George Lamola and Richard Nwamba,” the organisation says.

It is only thanks to the poverty of human language that a stalwart of the arts could only be bid farewell with a cliché: A giant tree has fallen.

Chakela is survived by his three children Lefa, Refiloe and Mohlomi, who have given him two grandchildren.

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