Dickson Malele’s perspective on artistic success appears to be focused on the cultivation and mentorship of emerging artists, rather than on financial wealth or material possessions. He values the investment of one’s own talents and efforts in nurturing a new generation of artistic talent as a measure of achievement, rather than traditional markers of prosperity.

By Sandile Memela

On 19 January, the spotlight will once again shine on Dickson Malele, a true legend and veteran of the theatre world who has captivated audiences for over half a century.

With unparalleled talent and unwavering dedication to his craft, Malele has left an indelible mark on the performance theatre industry. At 72 years young, he stands tall as he receives his well-deserved third award, a testament to his countless contributions and his enduring passion for theatre.

Previously, he got a Vita Award for his contribution to Woza Albert and his role in the development and growth of theatre, especially in the township.

You get the sense that Malele does not measure artistic success by how much money is in the bank or where your mansion is.

Instead, he measures it by how much of yourself you have given to raise a new generation of artists.

“This award is part of the rare tradition to acknowledge everything I have done in my life. All I can say is that I have given my life to theatre.

“Essentially, I am a teacher who imparts history and skills to young ones,” said Malele. 

Those who know consider him to be the late Mbongeni Ngema’s alter ego. But he says he was his creative partner. They were so close that he was granted a special slot at the late’s memorial service.

“Ngema had no business to die. We still had a lot to offer the world,” said Malele. 

He said observers tell him that a veteran of his calibre would have been a multi-millionaire if he was in America. But he scoffs at the idea.

“I am an African artist who does what he does not for money or financial success. I see myself as a conduit for African artistry and culture.

“For me, it has never been about money. I do what I do to transfer our knowledge, wisdom, history and heritage to the young.

“I believe I belong to the tradition of artists like Bra Gibson Kente, Madosini or Esther Mahlangu who had more love for what they do than money,” said Malele.

Cynics think this justifies and perpetuates the plight of artists to die paupers. But Malele does not consider himself poor.

The Siphiwo Msimang Foundation will host a low-key celebration at the Joburg Peoples Theatre in Braamfontein on Friday, 19 January.

Malele’s family, friends and other relevant peers and contemporaries have been invited to watch him bask in his limelight.

There will be a special performance of Woza Albert.

The purpose is to acknowledge, recognise and, above all, celebrate his contribution to the growth and development of township theatre.

In his own way, Malele is a widely recognised figure in township theatre and entertainment. 

In fact, he considers himself to have been right-hand man to the likes of Gibson Kente, Mbongeni Ngema and Percy Mtwa, among others.

“When I first started, Kente hand-picked me to be his office manager, responsible for a whole variety of things, including raising sponsorship and bookings.

“This exposed me to influential high flyers in the township elite society, from entrepreneurs, professionals, gangsters and other hustlers.

“Thus, I was at the University of Life at a young age. And I have no regrets about anything,” said Malele.

After a decade with Kente, from 1974 – 1982, he left with Ngema and Percy Mtwa to found and launch Committed Artists. They first worked together on the musical Woza Albert

“Thinking about it, I was Ngema’s creative partner. He integrated some of my ideas into his works,” said Malele.

But he was happy and satisfied with his participation and contribution. It is not that he expected money. He says it was not there.

They went on to work on other successful plays like The Zulu, Bambhata and, of course, the explosively successful Sarafina which was turned into a movie.

Other shows include Imbokodo and Survival.

He has worked with legends like Selaelo Maredi, Peter Sephuma, Darlington Michaels, Barney Simon and Peter Brooks, among others.

The thing about Malele is that he came of age at the time when Steve Biko’s Black Consciousness philosophy was on the ascension.

He quit his job as a messenger at Liberty Life to pursue an uncertain future in theatre. He had neither training nor skills.

“There was a new spirit and mood in the country. I was acquainted with the spirit of black self-pride as popularised by Biko’s philosophy.

“I felt I could no longer submit to racist life in corporate office, and I quit,” said Malele.

This was around 1972. He was forced to look for a job because of financial constraints. He could not finish his Junior Certificate at Damelin.

Thus, when he was 17 years old, he was auditioned by Darlington Michael for Gibson Kente’s company.

It was easy for him to be recruited. In 1973, he played the lead in a stage play, Lobola at the DOCC in Orlando. The show was attended by five people.

But this did not kill his spirit.

“I learned at an early age that a man must remain focused, disciplined and hard-working. Money cannot buy these qualities.

“My approach was always to do the work that must be done, first. If money comes, it will come when it comes,” said Malele.

He is not bothered that he relies only on the government pension to sustain his life. All that keeps him awake at night is the cultural revival that he believes seems to be on the upswing in places like Diepkloof.

“My role and responsibility is to teach and impart skills to the young who are the future of this country.

“I teach those with a love for music, dance and acting what I know. For me, it is enough to be thanked by people.

“For me, the Msimango Foundation has bestowed me with the highest honour..and for that, I am humbled and grateful, said Malele.

Here is a man who has carved a path for himself in life. He is willing to serve, selflessly, without expecting much in return.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *