Legendary Jerry Tsie’s rich history in arts, film & TV

Many television viewers will remember Jerry Tsie as the dashing actor in classic Sesotho dramas like Mohlolohadi, Le Tla O tjhabela and Masakeng while those who grew up with him in Kutlwanong township, Free State will remember him for his exploits as a karate expert. 

And I suppose his role in the film American Ninja 1 & 2 attests to his combative skills in martial arts. However, closer observation reveals that he’s actually a multifaceted personality with several roles and achievements under his belt.

He is a producer, writer and director of television programmes and documentary films. But even this seemingly impressive resume doesn’t adequately capture his role and accomplishments in the performance arts. 

Through Letsema La Tsela, an arts, culture and heritage organisation that he has co-founded and run as executive chairperson and national co-ordinator, Tsie has quietly but effectively ploughed his own row in the field of the arts. And the fruits of his toil are there for all who want to acknowledge them.

The name is a Sesotho phrase and refers to a work party that walks on a path of industriousness and commitment to the projects at hand. 

Over the years Tsie has focused on film projects that are enlightening, inspirational and definitely entertaining. In addition, they usually put the spotlight on unsung heroes and heroines who define our recent sad past but whose deeds speak to the nation building and healing goals that the country sorely need. 

In other words, properly packaged for the screen, history can be used not only to teach the viewers about the past, but also to challenge them to deal with that past in order to heal.

The Barefooted Comrade (2013) clearly illustrates this point. It’s a documentary film based on the short and tragic life of a young political activist who died in police custody. The thought-provoking and moving production follows the life of Sipho Mutsi. 

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Jerry Tsie. Picture: Supplied

He was born in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal in 1967 and raised in Lesotho and Free State where he started schooling. Sipho became involved in student politics and at the age of seventeen he was detained by the police and later died in prison. 

The 95-minute documentary film premiered on 22 February 2013 and was subsequently screened across various universities and townships. After watching the film Pulane Mutsi, the deceased’s mother said that it had helped her to find closure and healing.    

The film was also an eye-opener for students and others as it made them aware of the fact that the country is full of unknown martyrs and struggle heroes whose contributions have the potential to enrich our political history. Jerry Tsie’s other documentary, The Renaissance Man: Wellington Tshazibane recounts the life and times of Wellington Tshazibane (30), an Oxford graduate and mining engineer from Soweto who died in police custody at the notorious John Vorster Police Station in Johannesburg during the 16 June 1976 student uprisings. 

He was the seventh black detainee to have died in detention in 1976. As expected, the family and friends didn’t believe the police version that he had committed suicide by hanging himself with a strip of blanket.    

At the time of his death Tshazibane was employed in a research laboratory of mining giant, Anglo-American Corporation. 

He was accused of having provided the chemicals that were used in the bombing of Carlton Centre and was held under the Terrorism Act, which provides for detention without trial. One of his co-accused, Johannes ‘Ryder’ Mofokeng (24) was a Kaizer Chiefs defender and captain. 

There’s no denying that these are valuable stories of our past but Tsie’s focus is not only about young and unknown activists. 

SABC3 aired Thomas Mogotlane: The Unsung Hero, his other documentary on the Mapantsula (1988) actor whose premature death in 1993 robbed the industry of its brightest star. Hopefully, one day someone will produce a documentary on the life and times of Jerry Tsie. 

He has a rich story worth documenting.  In the 1980s he shook the conservative Afrikaner community of neighbouring Odendaalsrus, Free State when he fell in love with one of their own at the time when romance across the colour line was forbidden in South Africa.     


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