Zakes Mokae, American actor, Died at 75


Dead, Zakes Makgona Mokae on the 11th of September 2009 at the age of 75, he was a South African-born American actor.

Born in Johannesburg, South Africa on the 5th of August 1934, he moved to Great Britain in 1961 and to the United States in 1969.

He turned to acting at the same time as playwright Athol Fugard was emerging.

The two worked together on Fugard’s first international success, The Blood Knot, from 1961, a two-hander set in South Africa about brothers with the same mother but different fathers; Zach (played by Mokae) is dark skinned and Morris (played by Fugard) is fair skinned.

Later Mokae worked with Fugard on another major international success “Master Harold”…and the Boys, for which Mokae won the 1982 Tony Award for Featured Actor in a Play.

The play was filmed for television in 1985 with Mokae and Matthew Broderick. His major films are split between anti-apartheid films such as Cry Freedom (1987) and A Dry White Season (1989), and cult horror films such as The Island (1980), Dust Devil (1993), The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988) and Vampire In Brooklyn (1995), the latter two directed by horror icon Wes Craven.

He also appeared in character roles in many other films including Gross Anatomy (1989), Dad (1989), A Rage in Harlem (1991), Outbreak (1995) and the Kevin Costner film Waterworld (1995).

On television, he has been a guest actor in many series such as The West Wing, Starsky and Hutch, Danger Man, The X-Files, Oz, Monk and Knight Rider.

In 1982 he won a Tony for his performance as Sam, one of two servants working in a tea room in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, in “Master Harold,” the first of Mr. Fugard’s works to have its world premiere outside of South Africa.

In the play Sam looms as a surrogate father for a spoiled white teenager, whose frustrations with his actual parents result in the eventual manifestation of his ugly, racist upbringing.

The play had its roots in his own childhood, Mr. Fugard said, and the character of Sam in two men he himself had known.

In 1993 he was nominated for a Tony for a supporting role in “The Song of Jacob Zulu,” a first play by a white playwright, Tug Yourgrau, about the South African trial of a black activist.

Mr. Mokae played a man who had spent much of his life in prison.

In addition to his wife, whom he married in 1966, divorced in 1978 and then remarried in 1985, he is survived by two sisters and two brothers in South Africa; a daughter, Santlo Chontay Mokae, of Atlanta; and three grandchildren.

Mrs. Mokae said they moved back to South Africa in 2005, while his mind was still mostly intact, “so he could live under freedom there and have some memory of it.”

In 2005, he and his wife returned to the States from Capetown and settled in Las Vegas in order to seek better medical care for his Parkinson’s disease.