Arthur Molepo captured the popular consciousness of television viewers twenty-five years ago when he starred in Generations as Busang Moroka, the son of an advertising mogul.
Unlike his brother, the ambitious and passionate business executive Archie Moroka (Sello Maake ka Ncube) who was groomed to take over his father’s flourishing empire, New Horizons, Busang was not interested in the world of high finance and business deals. He was an artist at heart and contented to go on with his life as one.
And like his Generations character, Arthur Molepo has lived his life as an artist. Last week the theatre personality, sculptor, musician and television actor turned 70.
And although he was introduced to many television viewers in 1994 when the popular soapie was launched, Molepo’s artistic professional journey can be traced back to the early seventies when he joined Experimental Theatre Workshop 71, a non-racial theatre organisation founded by Robert Mshengu Kavanagh, a Rhodes Scholar and Oxford-educated English lecturer at Wits University.
Workshop 71, so-called because it was founded in 1971, attracted young and unknown actors from the townships who later became household names in theatre, film and television.
These included James Mthoba (Sarafina!), Selaelo Maredi (Masakeng), Peter Sephuma (best known as Miles Vilakazi in Rhythm City) and the late Ramolao Makhene – to mention a few.
Workshop 71 was also a production house that gave the theatre world a number of stage productions, notably Survival. When Kavanagh went to study abroad in 1976, the actors went their separate ways but its legacy is evident in the works of these thespians.
I first saw Arthur Molepo on stage playing Mingus, a 1950s gangster in Sophiatown (1986), a play by Junction Avenue Theatre Company at the Market Theatre.
It was an eye-opener for a teenager who until that stage was not familiar with professional stage acting. Mingus was the leader of the Americans, a gang of flashy dressers who set fashion trends in the black community.
They stole goods from trains and delivery trucks which they in turn sold to black folks in the townships. The play shows how Sophiatown, a culturally vibrant and cosmopolitan community was destroyed by apartheid laws and forced removals.
Since then subsequent editions of the play have been staged starring a younger generation of talented actors. Nicholas Nkuna (Fikani in 7de Laan) was impressive as Mingus in the 2016 Market Theatre version that was staged to mark the 30th anniversary of the seminal play.
But I’m told Arthur Molepo was involved in offering the necessary guidance to the young actors, particularly to the Mingus actor.
The original Sophiatown also starred famous well-known television personalities Patrick Shai and Ramolao Makhene, but it was Molepo’s character that gave the show its pulse and essence.
The Mingus role in the 1994 and 2005 versions earned him nominations in the best actor categories. This is a consummate performer who has indeed made a mark on stage, film and television in an illustrious career that spans four decades.
The number of credits in all these genres will require several articles as he has also distinguished himself as a writer, director and producer with years of dedicated involvement in industrial theatre. Highlights in television acting include receiving an Astera Award in 1986 for the drama series, Second Chance, also known by its Sotho title, O Tla Fella Kae? Molepo currently stars as Captain Malebana, a detective on the SABC1 series, Skeem Saam.
His son, Mpho Molepo is also an actor best known as Fats Tselapedi in the e.tv drama series, Rhythm City. The two have been working together in the staging of Mama, I Want The Black That You Are, a production that highlights the plight of people living with albinism, the prejudice and stigma they have been subjected to by society.
It’s a powerful production with a crucial social message. Since its premiere at the State Theatre in 2016, it has toured a number of schools around Gauteng. With better support from authorities, it’s a project that should be taken to all corners of the country.
* Skeem Saam airs weekdays on SABC1 at 6:30pm.