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Wednesday, April 13, 2016


(Bheki Khabela)

Actor, mentor, teacher Bheki Khabela (1970-2016) passed away on April 9.

Bheki Khabela was born at uMzinto on the KwaZulu-Natal South Coast. He was a soccer star at high school, but got interested in theatre soon after finishing matric, and never lost this passion. He attended drama workshops with Gibson Kente’s company in the early 1990s, and then started taking classes at the Upstairs Theatre in downtown Durban.

He later met up with Sduduzo Kawula and Bhekani Shabalala who were then part of the Enhlanhleni drama group. The three actors were known as the three mosquitoes: “when you see one, you know the other two are always around!”

Khabela, Kawula and Shabalala then moved on to master their craft under the newly-established drama programme at the BAT Centre, under the guidance of Bheki Mkhwane. Together with Mkhwane they created the show Sitting Around the Fire, which premiered in 1995 and was later revived in 2010 and won a Standard Bank Ovation Award at the National Arts Festival.

The group of three actors started to produce their own work, and acting in other theatre productions and Khabela also started to work as a teacher and mentor on a number of drama projects. He worked with Miranda Young-Jahangeer and Chris Hurst from the University of KwaZulu-Natal to facilitate a ground-breaking drama programme in the Westville prison, he tutored students at both UKZN and the Durban University of Technology, mentored a number of school drama programmes through a project supported by the Ethekwini Municipality, and trained young theatre-makers around the province through the St Lucia Wetlands Park cultural programme.

In 2003, Khabela, Kawula and Shabalala joined Michael Gritten and Emma Durden to create the PST Project, focusing on industrial theatre. Khabela also performed in many different theatre shows and musicals around KZN and further afield, with a host of different directors. He was a regular on stages at the Playhouse, at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown and the International Community Arts Festival in Rotterdam. He performed around South Africa, The Netherlands, Germany, France and the DRC, most recently in an international collaboration with dancer Boysie Cekwana.

“Bheki was a wonderful character actor, and his short stature allowed him to play great comic roles, but he also had the ability to capture the deep emotions of those in pain, and his work as “Magogo” in the production of The Horseshoe in South Africa and in the Netherlands was praised by reviewers as “shining”,” says Emma Durden, a director of Twist Theatre Projects.

Khabela also worked in film and television, appearing in a number of small independent films, and on SABC1’s series The Bay of Plenty.  He turned down offers of further television work in Johannesburg, preferring life in the theatre and at home in KZN.

“Bheki was a wonderfully humble person; he was a thoughtful actor and a sensitive spirit. He had a great sense of fun, and also a strong ethical core, and was a fierce protector of the rights of others. He will be sorely missed by his friends, family, fellow actors, and those of us in the industry who knew and loved him,” adds Durden.

A memorial service will be held at the BAT Centre, on April 15 at 15h00. All are welcome.