Ramolao Makhene

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Ramolao Makhene (1947-13 July 2003). Actor on stage, screen and TV.


Born Daniel Ramolao Makhene in Western Native Township near Sophiatown on 1 February 1947. He moved to Rockyville in 1962 where he studied at the Morris Isaacson School. After he left school in 1968 he worked at the Anglo American Research Laboratory and as librarian at Wits, while doing some acting on the side.

He was rehearsing the role of "Father Kumalo" in a stage version of Cry, The Beloved Country (dir. Roy Sergeant) in 2003 when he had to withdraw because of liver cancer.

He died om 13 July 2003 year at the age of 56. Married twice (to Mpo Twalla in 1971-1978, Rebecca Mogagabe 19?* -19?*), he had a long relationship with Mathakga Botha (1995-2003). He had four children.


It was while working at the Wits library that he became involved in the theatre company Theatre Workshop '71 and it was here that he developed his skills. When Workshop 71 closed, with most of its members in exile, he became a founding member of Junction Avenue Theatre Company.

The politics of the country plunged him into organisation and union work. He travelled to the Botswana Culture and Resistance Conference and Festival in 1987. His involvement with political initiatives led to the formation of the Performing Arts Workers' Equity of which he was chairperson for three consecutive terms.

In 1994 he became a teacher and fieldworker at the Market Theatre Laboratory. He presented teacher-training classes in Botswana which included storytelling workshops.

Contribution to SA theatre, film, media and/or performance

During his time with Theatre Workshop '71 he performed in Zzipp, Unosilimela and the revival of Crossroads.

Among his major stage performances were in Randlords and Rotgut, Master Harold...and the boys (Market Theatre March 1983), Death and the Maiden at Upstairs at the Market in 1992, Don Gxubane Onner die Boere at the Arena at the State Theatre in 1994, The Good Woman of Sharkville, Love, Crime and Johannesburg, Rainshark, A Streetcar Named Desire, Tooth and Nail, Weed Killers, Black Age, Mrs Kaplan and the Witchdoctor, Marabi (the play) (as "Mabongo"), Sauer Street and the documentary drama about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, (1997), which he helped workshop, The Story I am about to Tell. He also created the original “Mr Fahfee” in the hugely successful Sophiatown by JATC.

He toured the world with a number of the above plays.

Ramolao became a nationally known face for his work on television, notably in the series Soul City, The Line and Isidingo. He also had roles in Torings and Konings.

His film work consisted of five films and included Place of Weeping (1986), Cry, the Beloved Country (1995) and Taxi to Soweto.

Awards, etc

He received the Olive Schreiner award for Drama in 1984 for Randlords and Rotgut.

He was awarded the FNB Vita National Theatre award in 1994 for his role as Mr Fahfee in Sophiatown (performance of the year by an actor in a supporting role).

For his role as "Bones Shibambo" in Love, Crime and Johannesburg - winner of Gauteng regional Vita Award for Best Male Performance).

He received a nomination for the Laurence Olivier Award for best supporting actor, Britain, in Master Harold...and the boys.

A special award sponsored by Standard Bank was posthumously presented to him in 2005 by the National Arts Festival in recognition of his invaluable contribution to and significant achievement in South African theatre. This award takes the form of a bursary for the Market Theatre Laboratory.

Awarded a Naledi Award for Lifetime Achievement psothumously in 2004 and in 2012 a new theatre at the Bus Factory[1] was named the Ramolao Makhene Theatre in his memory.


Tucker, 1997.


Don Gxubane Onner die Boere programme, 1994.

National Arts Festival programme, 2005. 35.

Obituary written by Chris Barron, Sunday Times, 20 July 2003.

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