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RAMOLAO MAKHENE (article first published : 2005-01-26)

Sponsored by Standard Bank and posthumously presented by the National Arts Festival, a special award has been given to Ramolao Makhene (1947-2003), in recognition of his invaluable contribution to and significant achievement in South African theatre.

Ramolao Makhene served on the Committee of the National Arts Festival, Grahamstown for 15 years playing a pivotal role on the theatre sub-committee and in the general planning of the programme of events. He always radiated enormous warmth and goodwill, and his signature laugh and booming voice became well known wherever he worked.

It was while working in the Wits library that he became involved in the theatre company, Workshop 71 and it was here that he developed the skills, the performance ease, and the generosity of spirit, which would endure through the rest of his career. During his time with the company he performed in Zzipp, Unosilimela and in the revival of Crossroads.

When Workshop 71 closed, with most of its members in exile, Makhene became a founding member of Junction Avenue Theatre Company. He was a great improviser and character actor, and contributed significantly to the creation of plays such as Randlords and Rotgut (for which he received the Olive Shreiner Award for Drama in 1984), Marabi, Security, Sophiatown, Tooth and Nail and in 1999, Love, Crime and Johannesburg. In 1984, he also received The Lawrence Olivier Award in London for his supporting role in Master Harold and the Boys.

Makhene rapidly developed a reputation as a well-known television and film actor. His television performances included amongst others Soul City, Suburban Bliss, Carruthers Brothers, Konings, Faulkner's Law and Rhodes. Films for which he will be remembered included Cry the Beloved Country, Ipi Ntombi, Place of Weeping and Taxi to Soweto, for which he received the AA Life/Vita Award in 1996 for his supporting role.

The politics South Africa plunged him into organisation and union work. He travelled to the Botswana Culture and Resistance Conference and Festival in 1983, and also participated in the CASA Conference in Amsterdam in 1987.

Soon he was deeply involved with the groupings and political initiatives, which led finally to the formation of the Performing Arts Workers Equity (PAWE), in 1991. He was chairperson of PAWE for three consecutive terms, and held many executive portfolios. He became involved in the consultations for the transformation of the world of work of the artist in post-apartheid South Africa, which became known as the ACTAG Process. This process led to the formulation of current government arts and culture policy.

In 1994, Makhene became a teacher and fieldworker at the Market Theatre Laboratory. He presented teacher-training classes in Botswana, which included storytelling workshops, which he presented both nationally and internationally. He was an inspirational teacher and mentor at the Market Theatre Lab and his students remember him with true affection. His warmth and enthusiasm for theatre was contagious and he sought to bring out the best in each of his students.

This posthumous award takes the form of a bursary for the Market Theatre Laboratory. The Standard Bank and the National Arts Festival Committee wish to acknowledge the generosity of Ramolao Makhene, his love for the theatre and the performing arts in general, and his dedication as a teacher and mentor.




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