Joe Mafela Biography: Family, Acting, Singing, Awards and Death

South African legend inspired new generation of actors

By  | Jun 22, 2020, 01:43 PM  | Joe "Sdumo" Mafela  | Top of The

Joe Mafela was a South African actor, writer and director, who was loved for his iconic role in the sitcom Sgudi Snaysi, where he portrayed the role of Sdumo.

The sitcom name, which can be translated to “it is good, it is nice” became a popular phrase, where Joe turned it into a jingle for TV ads and made him a household name.

This is his biography.

Joe Mafela’s Family Life

Born on 25 June in the Limpopo Province, work forced Joe’s father and mother to move to Johannesburg’s Sophiatown. They lived in this iconic area until Joe was three years old, when he and his mother returned to Limpopo, where she gave birth to the couple’s second son.


A few years later, Joe and his mother returned to Johannesburg, where South Africa’s political situation and Apartheid forced the family to move several times. In the mid-1950s the family settled in Tshiawelo, where they lived until 1990.

Joe married Andronica, and the couple’s 46-year marriage was blessed with four children – three boys and a daughter. One of his sons, Juju Mafela joined his father in the entertainment industry.

Joe Mafela’s Acting Career

Passionate about the arts, Joe made his acting debut at 22 years old, at the height of Apartheid. He was featured in the movie Real News, which was directed by Hollywood big shot Peter Hunt, at the time well known for directing the James Bond movie From Russia With Love.

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A decade later, Joe and Peter reunited, when Peter directed the actor in another movie Shout At The Devil, which was filmed during the 1976 Soweto Riots.

Mafela also acted in the country’s first Black feature film Udeliwe, where he starred opposite Cynthia Shange. This role solidified his acting career, with many young Black men mimicking Joe’s lines.

By the 1980s, Joe started acting in TV series, including the Zulu sitcom Sgudi Snaysi, one of his most iconic roles as Sdumo.

The sitcom was a massive success, and it was also the start of a great working relationship with the public broadcaster at the time. When Joe turned to advertising, it was his role on Sgudi Snaysi that served as his inspiration.

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Sgudi Snaysi translated from Zulu means “it’s good, it’s nice”, and Joe turned this into a jingle for the popular chicken franchise Chicken Licken’s TV ads. Soon everyone was singing “it’s good, good, good, it’s good it’s nice”.

Soon Joe was also working in production, doing voice overs, advertising and radio roles. He also started to work with the team at Penguin Films, which he later co-owned, and where he was able to put on his director and producer hats.

Over his career, Joe has acted in several movies and TV series, including Zulu, Escape From Angola, Khululeka, Madam And Eve, Fela’s TV, Going Up and Generations: The Legacy.

During his acting career, Joe also managed the dance groups Mzumba, Sangoma and the Gold Reef Dancers. They performed across the world in theatres and even in movies.

Joe Mafela The Musician

Acting, directing and producing TV series wasn’t enough for Joe, who launched himself as a musician in 1996.

The release of his debut album Shebeleza came at the perfect time. His song, also titled Shebeleza was used as the theme song for the 1996 African Cup Of Nations. This success saw him release additional albums. His musical style is well-known for singing in several South African languages.

Award Glory For Joe Mafela

By the 1990s, Joe Mafela was an icon in South Africa’s entertainment industry – his face and talent recognisable by young and old.

For his career that spanned more than 40 years, Joe has won several awards. This include the Duku Duku Award, he was honoured with a Lifetime Management Achievement Award at the Naledi Theatre Awards and he won the Best Comedic Actor award at the prestigious South African Film And Television Awards.

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Joe Mafela’s Death And Funeral

In March 2017, while on his way home, Joe was involved in a car accident in the north of Johannesburg which took his life, at the age of 75.

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He was survived by his wife Andronica, his four children and six grandchildren. After his untimely death, Joe’s son Juju took over his father’s role in the production company Penguin Films, with the hope of taking the company international as was his father’s dream.

South Africa’s entertainment industry paid respect to this icon, with hundreds of family, friends and fans attending his memorial service at the Johannesburg Theatre.

His final resting place in Westpark Cemetery received quite a bit of attention when his tombstone was unveiled.

As someone who entertained South Africans in their homes, Joe Mafela’s extravagant tombstone was a lounge – and it comes with a couch, table and a plasma TV set.
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The tombstone was created by Bataung Memorial Tombstones, known for also creating tombstones for other well-known South Africans.

The company said the family wanted to honour the legend’s career, and that’s how the design for the tombstone came to be – as a cost of more than R100 000.

It a touching moment, it was announced during the memorial service that Studio 5, where Generations: The Legacy is filmed, will be renamed in honour of Joe, as The Joe Mafela Studio.

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Main image credit: All4Women