17 September 2008
Tributes have been pouring in for South African actor, playwright and journalist John Matshikiza, who died after suffering a heart attack in a restaurant in Melville, Johannesburg on Monday night.
Art and Culture Minister Pallo Jordan extended his condolences to Matshikiza’s first wife, Dr Tanya Abrahamse, and the entire Matshikiza family, especially his mother Esme, sister Marion and two daughters.
He said the 54-year-old Matshikiza’s death was a heart-rending loss for South African arts.
“Johnny will be sorely missed for his wit, his sense of humour and his gifts as an actor and a writer,” Jordan said.
The son of the late Drum writer Todd Matshikiza was born in Johannesburg but grew up in exile in Lusaka and London, living at various times in the US, Netherlands and a number of African countries.
He returned in South Africa in 1991 and worked in theatre, film and television.
An impressive actor, Matshikiza was recruited by Britain’s Royal Shakespeare Company. Serving his stage apprenticeship among the UK’s leading young actors and directors, he became a well-known figure in theatre circles in Britain.
He was also cast as Walter Sisulu in Danny Glover’s movie Mandela in 1985 and found intermittent work in radio, television and on the stage during those years.
The Memory Programme Manager at the Nelson Mandela Foundation, Verne Harris, said Matshikiza was a friend of the Foundation who supported its work and would often offer advice as well as criticism.
“John’s words will live on in his written and dramatic work, and his critical voice will serve as a reminder to all of us of the freedom of expression this country struggled so hard to achieve,” Harris said.
“True to his own character and principles, Mr Mandela also cherished this aspect of John’s personality. After a function at the Foundation where John spoke, Madiba approached him afterwards and said: “You young people, you must keep on troubling us”.
Harris said the playwright, actor and journalist gave back to South Africa in so many ways, and would probably best be remembered for his independent voice that could be heard in newspaper columns, at theatres, in coffee bars and restaurants.
Matshikiza last acted in the SABC 3 series Hard Copy and appeared in various films, including Cry Freedom, Mandela and There’s a Zulu on My Stoep.
He also appeared alongside Kevin Bacon in The Air Up There and Angelina Jolie and Clive Owen in Beyond Borders.
Matshikiza was a regular columnist for the Mail and Guardian newspaper, and at the time of his death was writing for Business Day and The Weekender. He was also Director of Culture at the Goree Institute in Senegal.