Tony Award Winner Zakes Mokae, South African-Born Actor, Dies at 75
I previously had a clip featuring Zakes Mokae in the shades and purple tie in the Graham Greene film, The Comedians, which also happened to star Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor, Alec Guinness, Raymond St. Jacques, Gloria Foster, James Earl Jones, and Georg Sanford Brown, among others, in 1967. But You Tube got rid of that and other clips from that source. Instead, I’m forced to feature a scene from The Serpent and The Rainbow, Wes Craven’s Haitian voodoo exploitation flick. From the sublime to the ridiculous.
He was a great actor, best known for his work with Athol Fugard and in Fugard’s anti-apartheid plays. I believe that I saw him in San Francisco in Master Harold…and the Boys, the play that won him the Tony, when it toured. More recently, Zakes Mokae appeared on shows like Oz, The West Wing, and The X-Files. Zakes Mokae was decidedly better than The Serpent and The Rainbow with Bill Pullman and Cathy Tyson, where he played the Duvalier-era police chief and dreaded voodoo bokor, Dargent Peytraud.
From the New York Times:
Zakes Makgona Mokae (pronounced ZAYKES Muh-KWA-nuh Mo-KYE) was born in Johannesburg on Aug. 5, 1934. In vicious times in South Africa, he was jailed several times as a young man (for repeatedly not carrying a passbook, for instance). He was playing saxophone in a jazz band in the late 1950s when he was introduced to Mr. Fugard by a black journalist, Bloke Modisane, who was helping Mr. Fugard create a theater that was specifically about South African life, a theater that did not exist at the time. He had had no previous acting experience, but Mr. Fugard, sensing a bond between them, cast him in two plays even before The Blood Knot. When The Blood Knot was revived by the Yale Repertory Company in the United States in 1985, with Mr. Fugard and Mr. Mokae again acting together, it was, Mr. Fugard said, among the most emotional occasions of his life.
After The Blood Knot opened in London, Mr. Mokae was barred from returning to South Africa. He did not return until 1982, when he learned his brother James was to be hanged for murders committed during a robbery, though it was unclear whether James was present during the killings. Mr. Mokae, who learned of the death sentence on the night he won his Tony Award, returned to Johannesburg in time to witness his brother’s execution.
Mokae figured in nearly all of Fugard’s early plays, like Boesman and Lena, and A Lesson from Aloes. In addition to The Comedians, his many films included Darling, Cry Freedom and A Dry White Season. In recent years, diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease, Mokae worked as artistic director for several repertory companies, including the Nevada Shakespeare Company.
(Athol Fugard is currently adjunct professor of playwriting, acting, and directing in the Department of Theatre and Dance at the University of California, San Diego. He is 77.)
Mokae suffered a stroke in May, and died at home in Las Vegas, Nevada on September 11, said his wife Madelyn. (Mokae and his wife married in 1966, divorced in 1978, but remarried in 1985.) He is also survived by a daughter, Santlo, who lives in Atlanta, Georgia, and three grandchildren, as well as two sisters and two brothers in South Africa. Madelyn Mokae related that the family had moved briefly back to South Africa in 2005, while her husband’s mind was still intact, “so that he could live under freedom there and have some memory of it.”