Zakes Mokae

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Zakes Mokae (1935-2009). Internationally recognised actor on stage and film.


Born Zakes Makgona Mokae on 5 August 1935 in Johannesburg. He attended the St Peter’s School that was run by the Anglican Church where he met Father Trevor Huddleston. An important day in his life was when Drum journalist Bloke Modisane introduced him to Athol Fugard.

Fondly known as Bra Zakes, he left South Africa in 1961 for exile in the UK, where he trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. He later moved to the US in 1969. After 1994 he visited his home in Meadowlands, Soweto, from time to time.

In 2005 he came back home to South Africa. His desire was to live in his country at the time of freedom. Soon thereafter he was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. He later returned to the United States where he died at the age of 75 in September 2009.


He trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.


In 1961 he left the country to work in Britain, and later in America. In New York he played Sam in Master Harold...and the boys where he won a Tony Award for his performance.

He directed a production of Boesman and Lena in Toronto, Canada in 1972.

He played in the 1989 Metro-Goldyn-Mayer film A Dry White Season based on the novel by André P. Brink.

In addition to his stage work, Mokae appeared in I such films as The Comedians, Darling, The Island (also starring Michael Caine, 1980) and Cry Freedom and television series The X-Files and Oz.

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

Best known in South Africa for his work on many of Athol Fugard’s plays. He was one of the collaborators in the workshop led by Athol Fugard to create No-Good Friday, which was staged at the Bantu Men's Social Centre in conjunction with the Union of South African Artists in 1958. Fugard himself also appeared in the play, together with Dan Poho, Steve Moloi, Ken Gampu, Gladys Sibisa and Bloke Modisane. This play was later transferred to the Brooke Theatre for a ‘whites only’ run.

He played leads in numerous productions, including "Zachariah" in The Blood Knot, which opened at the Rhodes University Theatre Complex in Grahamstown in July 1961. The play, starring Fugard himself, then played at the Rehearsal Room at Dorkay House in September. Leon Gluckman then presented it at the Intimate Theatre. He played the role in London too. He also had a role in a production Boesman and Lena and in Nongogo and Master Harold...and the boys.

He acted in Paul Slabolepszy’s hugely successful Saturday Night at the Palace.


He won a Naledi Lifetime Achiever Award, February 2005

The Order of Ikhamanga in silver, 2008.


Tucker, 1997.

The Star, 15 February 2005.

Diamond Fields Advertiser, 18 September 2009.

Various entries in the NELM catalogue.

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