Arts left poorer

I HAVE known Mandla Thabethe for more than 15 years now, having come to Johannesburg in the 1990s like many artists to look for opportunities in the entertainment industry.

I HAVE known Mandla Thabethe for more than 15 years now, having come to Johannesburg in the 1990s like many artists to look for opportunities in the entertainment industry.

He was from Durban, where he graduated with a diploma in drama at the Durban Institute of Technology. I knew him when he was not that famous.

How he hustled his way into mainstream entertainment later actually surprised me, and certainly several of his friends from that kwaito era of the early 1990s.

I could not believe the Mandla we knew from our Hillbrow and Yeoville days as a drinking buddy was the TV star that made everyone laugh.

He was one of our generation, the generation that saw the transformation of Hillbrow, Berea and Yeoville into cosmopolitan centres of entertainment. The areas degenerated into slums and back to normality again.

Being a trained actor, his hunting grounds were entertainment venues like the Windybrow Theatre in Berea, the Market Theatre and, of course, the popular drinking holes and joints in the Hillbrow, Berea and Yeoville of the 1990s.

Mandla was easy with people, likeable, talkative and ever-smiling. All these years, and many of his friends will vouch for this, it was hard to see Mandla wearing a sad face, even when the chips were down and he could only get odd jobs on TV.

We were together at our popular drinking hole on New Year's Day, where we drank until the wee hours of the morning. I last saw him at the same place when he popped in to say "hi". He was accompanied by his son.

When he got his big break to not only star as Bongo in Family Bonds 1 in 2007, but also to produce the show, he knocked at Sowetan's door. He wanted everyone to know that he had become what he had always wanted to be - a TV producer.

And when he got married to Mapula in 2007 he wanted the story to be covered, and sent photos of himself in Zulu attire.

In the same year, however, Mandla confided to me that he was struggling to ride his new Harley Davidson bike. Sometimes he fell - but was determined to master it.

A few months ago, he was at Sowetan offices again, this time to speak about the joy of riding his Harley Davidson bike as a pro.

He was a member of the Soprano Biking Club, which was involved in charity events. I ended up writing a story about biking instead of about his Mini Cooper, because he insisted cars were "boring these days".

Unfortunately, it was the same bike that took his life on Sunday . Mandla leaves behind his wife and son, 3. He will be buried in Durban tomorrow . The service starts at 9.30am at the Durban City Hall.

X