Henry Cele

Illustration by: Thabisodbn
 By Mandi ‘Poefficient’ Vundla |                                                     

The late ‘Henry Cele’ is engraved in our memories as the man who shared the spirit of the warrior King Shaka Zulu with the world. He was ‘Shaka kaSenzangakhona’ reincarnate; a vessel through which the legacy of the son of Nandi had found refuge; a totem of pride for the Zulu Nation; a page torn from history and stuck onto our screens every Sunday night; almost ten years after his passing. Had we forgotten to remember him all along? The actor with a name fit for a king yet bound by erasure.

In 2015 the ‘Cultural & Creative Industries Federation of South Africa’ reported that ‘Shaka Zulu’ the mini-series grossed over $500million worldwide, yet Cele parted ways with the earth singing that melancholic pauper tune sung by actors who have fallen from grace after a country you once held, let you slip from its hands.

Lest we forget, Henry Cele was an internationally acclaimed star who left a mark on the world in his unparalleled portrayal of uShaka. The British mini-series debuted in 1986, it also featured actress and musician Tu Nokwe and Patrick Ndlovu: the man most of us feared as Mr Mthembu in the hit drama series ‘Yizo Yizo’ or Mr Moloi in ‘Zone 14’.

Cele’s commitment to the immaculate execution of the Zulu monarch paved the way; in hindsight his short-live glory foretold of the future of South African Acting. Today actors like Terry Pheto have spread their wings abroad, from playing lead in the Oscar award winning ‘Tsotsi’ to scoring a role in the ‘Bold and the Beautiful’ and not forgetting the international awards she scooped for her role in ‘A United Kingdom’ and the BET series: ‘Madiba.’

Likewise amidst other films Henry Cele also featured in movies like ‘The Ghost and the Darkness’ and ‘Shaka Zulu: The Last Great Warrior’. The South African gem was discovered in a stage play where he portrayed the same role of the leading Monarch. KwaMashu was his place of birth and prior to his acting career, he was a football player; dubbed ‘Black Cat’ for his prowess as a goalkeeper. Though his name is a distant memory his excellence will never be forgotten.

There are stories that live long after they have been told, they outlive the orator; they survive the seasons and don’t require adaptations. The ‘Shaka Zulu’ mini-series is one such monument.
For 50 minutes we followed Cele’s lead in the story, we watched the rich melanin on his chiseled athletic body handle Shaka’s spear. He would have been 68 this year but sadly he took his last breath 2nd November 2007 at the st Augustine’s Hospital after battling a chest infection. He is the younger brother of the late Ruth Cele who played the hilarious ‘MaMgobhozi’ in Hlala Kwabafileyo. He is also a lesson on how South Africa should preserve its natural resources and safeguard its gems. Our Stories are the Blue Print for our heritage, a storage site for our identity and as we embrace our culture, let us not forget the greatness that is Henry Cele, born 30 January 1949.

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