By Cheryl Brown –
Zakes Mokae, Tony Award winning actor for Master Harold and the Boys passed away after a long illness in his home in Las Vegas, NV. (reported Sept. 17, 2009 issue of BVN)
As is customary in his country his remains should have been returned to his native home. Mokae was known by his countrymen as a true hero. One of the many in exile that gave up family and country to bring attention South Africa’s Aparthied past.
Since there is no word in his native Zulu tongue to explain the word actor, his late parents did understand his profession.
But that was then and this is now, so much has changed there and wherever you look native South Africans are in charge.
Recently I traveled with Zakes wife Mandy to take Zakes’ ashes back to his people.
The service, was the last of three, the first was held in Las Vegas and the second in Los Angeles. The third included three days of joyful celebration of a life well lived.
Nearly 300 people attended the service at the famous Sofia Town Christ the King Anglican Church. But before the mass there was the arrival with his cousin Johnny Mokae receiving his ashes at the Johannesburg Airport. Television station SABC documented the series of activities that welcomed him and wife Mandy back home. The first stop was to return to his last home in Kalarney area.
From there a stop by former first Lady Zanele Mbeke’s home; then on to the home where we were to stay. Dr. GJiyana M. Mbere, a close friend of the Mokaes, is where culture shock set in for me.
We were stopped at the door by Mbere and friend Violet Gwamgwa and informed we could not bring his ashes inside. The entire house would have to be cleansed from top to bottom because he was not of the Mbere family. The issue was solved when Johnny Mokae and his wife Lorraine volunteered to take the ashes home with them. Johnny said when he got home he had a ceremony, he found an honored place, put down a large napkin, said prayers, and spoke to him before going to bed to get up early the next day to entomb him. The next day we arrived by 10 a.m. to West Park Cemetery, only a very few senior family members attended, Mandy selected the place in the Wall of Remembrance, a brief service was held and off we went to get the church ready. Well not quite. Mandy had sent huge blown up photos telling Zakes’ life story to decorate the church. It took hours to retrieve them and by that time the rain was beginning. It rained so hard we could not leave the church so we stayed and I learned more about culture from different groups while we waited for the torrential rain to stop. South Africa recognizes 11 languages and with that goes different cultural moray. (More on that at another time.)
On day two, a plaque where Zakes had been entombed the previous day was unveiled that morning with a brief prayer service, at 8:30 AM, from there we drove to the church, for a full Anglican Mass, & Communion, with The Soweto Melodic Voices at 10 AM. this was followed by numerous speakers, and entertainers performing, all were led by emcee John Kani, himself a Tony Award winner and famous trumpeter Jonas Gwamgwa, who was in charge of the musical portion. Abigail Kuhbeka, brought the crowd to their feet, Letta Mublu, Caiaphas Semenya, Thandie Klassen, and Dorothy Masuka, were outstanding in Mandy’s words, “ a true Sophia town, jam session.”
Gwen Mathanglu, Deputy Minister, of Economic Development, former Speaker of Parliament was the main speaker. Willie Kgostitle, spoke for the Dept. of Arts and Culture. Arts and Culture were responsible for bringing him home.
When Aubrey Nkomo, came to the microphone, a real history lesson was given.
History of the struggle and the people who were in the church who were also important in defeating Aparthied. Hours later the crowd moved on to the church hall and tent in the parking lot, for a beautiful catered lunch, more music, and singing. Family members Beauty and Lorraine, her daughter Dr. Mokae were up all night cooking a traditional and European meal.
During the service but after the Mass, the family members, were taken to the "Garden of Remembrance" in the rear of the church where three 8 foot (Approximately) columns stand. In the middle is a statue of Father Huddleston, the champion Aparthied resistor. He is buried in the garden and his statue is located in the middle of the three columns. An identical copy of the plaque un-veiled at the cemetery earlier, was unveiled on the first column for Zakes, right next to Father Huddleston. “This is truly a honor for Zakes,” said Mandy. Father Huddleston is revered by all Black South Africans.
Several relatives and friends and children to young to know what all of the fuss was about attended; they came from Swaziland, Mafikeng, and several other parts, of South Africa. His cousin Dr. Gomolemo Mokae, from Pretoria, spoke of how Zakes brought several of his family members to the USA for a better life, to be educated and to return home with marketable skills.
Everyone I came in contact with in South Africa were outstanding productive people. I will never forget the Department of Arts and Culture, Dr. GG, Johnny and Lorraine and the many others who made this a wonderful experience.
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