They’ve been married so long they finish each other’s sentences. After four decades together, veteran actor Jerry Mofokeng wa Makhetha and his wife, Claudine, are still absolutely smitten with each other.
We catch up with the couple at our Auckland Park offices. Jerry (63) tucks into a fruit salad while Claudine (62) gets her makeup done but still, they banter with each other.
He was 22 years old when he met her and marriage was the furthest thing from his mind because he was recovering from a broken heart. The girl he was in love with at the time had been sent to boarding school in the North West and Jerry learnt that she had run away with a teacher. “I was shattered,” Jerry tells us.
“I went to God and He and I had a frank conversation where I set down my terms. I knew if He had taken her away from me then surely He had something better in store for me. “In my prayer I told God women are heartbreakers and that I did not want a replacement or a substitute. I vowed to only revisit the idea of a relationship the following year.” But fate had other plans.
GETTING THE GIRL
Two months after his chat with God, Jerry met Claudine. “I was taking one of my mentees home when I saw his sister,” he recalls. “I had two problems with my attraction to her. First, I did not believe in love at first sight. There was no way I could be in love with someone I had just met!
The other problem I had was that I had a covenant with God to not be in a relationship until the following year.” Yet each time he saw her, his feelings grew. Then he started pursuing her. Claudine rolls her eyes as she recalls she paid her suitor no mind. “I thought he was just another chancer,” she giggles.
He asked her out telling her he had prayed about it. Claudine said she also needed time to pray because she was not certain about his intentions. Then she started having strange dreams in which he would appear and save her, she says.
“I asked my mom what these dreams meant, and she asked what my relationship with this man was. I told her he’d proposed we be in a relationship and she said the dreams meant he was the one. She said my grandmother had similar dreams before she got married,” Claudine says.
“Then one morning in December I woke up missing him with every fibre of my being. I couldn’t breathe properly until I phoned him.” Jerry was at a youth camp and was only due to return in January. “While I was there, I got a call that changed my life,” he recalls.
She phoned and said four words I have never forgotten.” When we ask what Claudine said, he leaps out of his chair with excitement. “Yhoo! She said, ‘I am missing you’. “Man, I could not wait to get back home,” he says with a broad smile. They started dating in January 1979 and nine months later, Jerry sent his family to ask for her hand in marriage.
KEEPING THE LOVE
The loved-up couple wed on a beautiful day in June 1980 and the secret to their long-lasting marriage is faith, they say. “God is the main ingredient,” Claudine says. “But it is also very important to study your partner and meet their needs.
“If it does not hurt you in any way, indulge them because it makes them happy. I am a homebody who enjoys reading and he likes to be outdoors. “Sometimes I agree to go to nature reserves. While there, I catch up on reading while he wakes up at the crack of dawn to watch lions drinking water.”
Making compromises in your relationship doesn’t mean you’re giving away your power, she adds. “And being a feminist does not mean being anti-male. You are two very different people from different backgrounds. [Learn to] forgive,” she says.
Jerry heeds the words his father-in-law shared at their wedding reception. “He said love must be serviced. You cannot be on autopilot in marriage. Everything that is expensive and is of value needs to be serviced at an authorised workshop – the same applies to marriage.
“We read a lot of literature about love, courtship and marriage. That’s just one of the secrets that’s kept us together all these years. Also, I am Mr Surprise. It is tough while I’m preparing the surprise but once it’s revealed, the smile on her face makes it all worth it,” he grins.
After nearly 40 years together, Jerry is clearly still taken with Claudine. “She is amazing. She’s a nurse by profession, but she is really a nurse all around. She makes me feel like a king. She knows when to feed me, when to advise and when to forgive. The couple have been blessed with five children and six grandchildren.
Jerry has a degree in drama from Wits University but says it belongs to Claudine too. “She worked hard to ensure I get that degree while raising our children,” he says. Claudine is the wind beneath his wings. She reads with him when he needs to learn his script.
“I end up knowing all the lines and reciting them when he is onstage,” she says. Her husband has played several roles but Claudine’s favourite characters are Ntate in When We Were Black and when he played a man accused of killing his wife in a theatre production called Sus.
“Those roles were extremely powerful and moving,” she says. Jerry is currently in e.tv’s Scandal, where he plays notorious gangster Neo and M-Net’s Trackers, where he plays a doctor. Now, Claudine is looking forward to watching her husband on the big screen.
Jerry has two films coming out soon. With all his years in the industry, he has some wise words to share. “Keep growing and never stagnate. Discipline and professionalism are not negotiable. They should be the bare minimum. Lastly, be a good human to work with,” he says.