A true thespian, a stickler for discipline, a passionate devotee of his art, a devoted family man, and a consummate professional. These were just a few of the glowing tributes that resounded at the memorial service of the iconic actor, Patrick Bra Styles Ndlovu, as recounted by the eloquent speakers.

By Jabu Kumalo

On Monday afternoon, 5 June, the John Kani wing of the Market Theatre was adorned with the presence of esteemed actors, directors, and playwrights. They had all been touched by the greatness of Patrick Bra Styles Ndlovu, a titan of the stage, screen, and television. Together, they gathered to pay tribute to his memory in a solemn memorial.

The commencement of the occasion was marked by the resonant melody of the national anthem, a fitting tribute to the distinguished stature of Ndlovu.

The luminary programme director, none other than the legendary Sello Maake kaNcube, reverently acknowledged that actors of his era were indebted to the towering figures of yesteryear, such as the illustrious Bra Styles.

Maake remarked: “These are the people who paved the way for us. We are what we are today because we are riding on the shoulders of great actors like Bra Styles.”

Maake expressed his sadness over the fact that performers like Ndlovu had not graced the Market Theatre stage in what felt like an eternity. Their premature retirement was a great loss to the industry.

Jabu Msithini, a family representative and brother-in-law to the late Ndlovu, spoke of his remarkable transparency and professionalism. He said Ndlovu’s impact was not limited to his family, but rather extended to the entire world, leaving an indelible mark on all those who had the privilege of crossing his path.

Msithini said to those in attendance: “He was a confidant not just to me, but many others as well. We appreciate the privilege of having shared him with the whole world. He truly loved his family. When he passed on, he owed no man no debt. He was an inspirational leader who led without a position. He was disciplined. His honesty embarrassed us sometimes.”

According to Msithini, Ndlovu’s health has been deteriorating over the past few months.

The memorial service was infused with the melodious tunes of the gifted vocalists, Gift GK Ledimo, Putuma, and Patrick Sanku Bokaba. Their enchanting voices added a touch of magic to the solemn occasion.

Mabutho Kid Sithole, a trusted comrade and confidant of Ndlovu for over 40 years, didn’t mince his words when it came to the higher-ups in the arts and government spheres.

Sithole was seething with anger when he said: “We are wondering why today people like him are forgotten by the industry. Like some of us, he has been parked like a bus by those in power, including the Department of Sport, Arts and Culture. There is a future for this department today because of the creatives, but no future for the artists who wrote the scripts for the white and green papers that brought this department into being. Young artists think there is only glitter in this industry. They don’t know that there is a lot of gloom. We are the only ones with no official title at the Department of Sport, Arts and Culture. Fix the script of those remaining so that Bra Styles and others can rest in peace.”

Maake concurred wholeheartedly with Sithole’s sentiment: “There is human shedding. We are being shed…old actors are being dumped. You don’t see them on these stages anymore.”

Bra Styles was stern but sweet.

Bra Styles may have had a no-nonsense approach, but deep down, he was as sugary as a freshly baked batch of cookies.

A group of talented artists who once shared the screen with Ndlovu on the beloved TV dramas, Yizo Yizo and Zone 14, including the likes of Owen Sejake, Thulani “Spinach” Didi, Kere “Popayi” Nyawo, Carol Behane, Mpho Molepo, Thembi Nyandeni, Patrick Mofokeng, and a host of other luminaries, shared the same sentiment that Bra Styles was strict but caring.

Carol Behane and Mpho Molepo had the crowd in fits of laughter as they regaled the audience with anecdotes that perfectly captured Ndlovu’s larger-than-life personality.

Behane took the initial shot: “I was so, so scared of Bab’ Ndlovu. Very, very scared. I was nervous in his presence. When I got the opportunity to work with him in Zone 14, I discovered that strict as he was, underneath he was so sweet. He was also very stylish. Very clean. He loved and respected his craft a lot. He has left a void in the entertainment industry. To family, nathi silahlekelwe (your loss is our loss).”

Molepo said: “Our first meeting was very confrontational. I was about to enter the offices for auditions, and he was driving out. He shouted, “Go back! go back!” but I stood my ground. Finally, I backed off. I was to find out later that he was going to play my grandfather in the drama series. It was really tense. But later we clicked. He was not happy when I had to leave Zone 14. It is sad that he was no longer getting jobs because of his age. Industry leaders, please include our parents in your scripts. They have not retired, but you have retired them.”

According to Angus Gibson from Bomb Productions, Ndlovu’s enigmatic personality was so captivating that it added to the drama of TV series such as Yizo Yizo and Zone 14.

Angus also spilt the beans that Ndlovu was a thorn in the side of some directors: “He was hard on directors. He made many directors cry. If he didn’t like a director, he would tell him straight.”

Shane Dladla, a member of the family, said Ndlovu was a unique and exceptional individual, embodying the essence of humility and radiating a rare brilliance: “ He was the special one, the chosen one who was humility personified and a rare gem.”

Bra Styles will be laid to rest on Wednesday 7 June. The funeral service will start at 8 am at the Methodist Church in Mohlakeng, West Rand, just outside of Randfontein.

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