Artists mourn death of Johnny

Gugu Sibiya and Edward Tsumele

Gugu Sibiya and Edward Tsumele

John Matshikiza (54), one of the country's larger-than-life characters among scribes, theatre directors, actors, columnists and singers, died on Monday night in Melville, Johannesburg.

Matshikiza collapsed outside a restaurant while waiting for a takeaway order.

A colourful figure in African attire, Matshikiza was well-known for his many artistic skills.

Of all the roles he has played, many people recalled him in the popular local comedy, A Zulu On My Stoep. His father was the famous composer Todd Matshikiza, who wrote King Kong.

He also contributed to the Weekly Mail with his much-read column, With The Lid Off.

His sudden death has shattered his close-knit "family" of Melville, Johannesburg.

Matshikiza was a popular feature of Melville coffee society.

Actress and close friend Cindy Sampson said she had just concluded a theatre deal with him last week.

"I was looking forward to his directing this play next year, and we were at the stage of looking for money for the play.

Sampson said when she was with him last he seemed tired and to have been affected by the death of jazz maestro Bheki Mseleku in London last week.

Businessman Frank Mohapi, shocked at his friend's sudden death, said that Matshikiza "was at the forefront of developing this country's culture".

SAFM talk-show host Eric Miyeni, who moves in the same circle of creative people as Matshikiza did in Melville, said: "Ironically, last week before bronchitis sent me to bed I was with him and we spoke about going to Six (a popular 7th Street, Melville, cocktail spot) to have cocktails.

"I don't remember his being sick at all so this came as a big shock."

Sifisi Ntuli, owner of the House of Nsako, said it was only last week when Matshikiza and a group of his friends held a meeting to organise a special memorial service for Mseleku.

"We spoke about the shamelessness of people who spoke lies about Mseleku at his memorial service, yet did not know him at all. Matshikiza and I had known Mseleku well and we wanted to set the record straight."

Regina Sebright, director of the Market Theatre, where Matshikiza was an associate artistic director in 1992, added her voice to those shocked by his death.

"I'm very sad," she said. "He had an incisive brain and was one of the foremost intellectuals in the country. We will miss that.

"I extend my condolences to the Matshikiza family, to his mother, Esme, sister Marion and his two daughters."

Minister of Arts and Culture Pallo Jordan said: "Johnny will be sorely missed for his wit, his sense of humour and his gifts as an actor and a writer."

l Johnny is survived by his first wife, Tanya Abrahamse.