Friends and colleagues remember Patrick Shai as a pioneer of the arts

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Close friends and colleagues describe Patrick Shai as a walking library for the arts.
Close friends and colleagues describe Patrick Shai as a walking library for the arts.
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The country has been in mourning since the passing of veteran actor Patrick Shai (57) who died in his home in Dobsonville, Soweto on 22 January. His family announced his death in a statement asking for privacy until details on his death are finalised.

Patrick acted in major productions, such as Generations and Yizo Yizo, 7de Laan, Soul City, Place of Weeping, Zulu Love Letter and Cry, The Beloved Country to name a few. 

Close friends and colleagues describe the actor as a walking library for the arts.

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When he passed, Patrick was playing the role of greedy mine boss on the 1Magic drama The River, where he was friends with Mohumi, played by Seputla Sebogodi.

Fighting to hold back the tears, Seputla tells Drum he wishes to only remember the fond memories about Patrick and not think about how he passed.

“Parting has never been good, whether one is going forever or one I going to come back it has always been a bitter pill to swallow.”

Before Patrick joined The River, Seputa was unaware that he would be reuniting with an old friend on screen.

“At The River, they never told me who is playing Pasha but reading the script I saw meatiness and I was worried about who would be able to play this character. I remember seeing the call sheet a day before and I saw Patrick was playing Pasha. I was so ecstatic, and happy. I told my wife that tomorrow we are going to have fun on set,” he says.

“We were like two little naughty boys running helter-skelter with the coffee. I remember our colleague Sis Tina saying to us when we tease each other that she won't call us kids but matured youth,” he laughs.

“We had such a good rapport because we have worked together for such a long time," he adds.

Seputla and Patrick had worked together for more than three decades.

"I think about 32 years back we did a film called Hearts and Minds. I remember him telling me, ‘Jitta’ there are no small parts only small actors.' I remember we also did some industrial theatre where we traveled, I was directing and he was acting. If the call time was 10am, we would meet at 8am in the morning. The other actors would find us playing soccer in the morning. We always fought about teams. We were both Pirates but he would say I must be Chiefs. We would have to toss the coin and if I lose, I would have to take off my shirt, he would wear his and we would play a real tournament,” he says.

They both loved chess.

“When we played chess, we played it like it was a spar off. I remember just before we closed for a break on The River, I told him that I am no longer good at chess because I taught my son how to play and these days, he is whacking me. He told me he did the same and his son is showing him flames.”

They often spent their work lunch breaks together.

“If I’m in the queue and he is at the back, he would say, ‘you can’t eat before ma groet man.’ If there's something I wanted, I would tease him and say, ‘ma groet man can't do this before the young ones.’ 

Their relationship was filled with banter and talent.

“That’s the kind of relationship we had. But the two things that I’d like to take from him is, he said, ‘As men, we should learn to be like rose, when the wind blows, they slide and sleep and wait for the sun to rise so they can blossom again.’ That is a skill I will use for the rest of my life,” he says.

“But if I were to tell him something now, I would say, “Jitta, some people are born great, some achieve greatness, some have greatness thrust upon them. You have the rest of them,” he says.

Friend and colleague, Sello Maake Ka-Ncube says Patrick was iconic.

“I first met Shai in the late 80s at the market theatre. I was watching his mesmerizing performance in the play Sophiatown,” he says.

“I was highly inspired by his performance and can comfortably say he was a role model.”

Sello says Patrick was a people person.

“On and off stage, Patrick was a lover of people. He loved and cared deeply and he fought for the underdog.”

Currently based in London, actress Pamela Nomvete is devastated by the news of Patrick's passing. 

“I met Patrick really early in my career when I was in South Africa around 1994. The most significant time I spent with him was in the film Zulu Love Letter, where we had the most beautiful and powerful scene together. He was a phenomenal actor,” Pamela says.

“Within these past two years, we lost the writer to Zulu Love Letter Bhekizizwe Peterson. So these two people, giants in one project which was very significant in my life because I won the Sparkle Best Actress Award for it because I was working with a team of brilliant people, both passed,” she says.

Pamela says Patrick’s performance was always captivating.

“Even if you get the DVD of Zulu Love Letter, the other movie on it is Fools, another film that Patrick Shai played the lead in and was incredible in it. He was just an incredible artist,” she says.

“We interacted a lot and I am truly devastated by his death. I just can’t understand how this happened.”

Pamela believes it’s important to nurture South African talent and never forget the contribution made by people like Patrick.

“He really is one of South Africa’s treasures in terms of talent. A real veteran practitioner of the arts. I think when I hear these things, I realise that as Africans we really have to celebrate our people more. We always celebrate them when they are dead. Let’s not do that. Can we really celebrate them while they’re still alive, as black people we tend not to adhere to the fact that we have a legacy and we come from a history of people. People are achieving things today because they are walking on the shoulders of the people of the past. Patrick Shai is one of those people," she adds.

“Patrick was a pioneer of the industry in South Africa. I am just stunned and devastated that this happened. He was a fantastic talent, and he should be honoured as such I hope that younger people will seek out his work and be inspired because these are the people that have carved the way for the future. And I really pray that the South African young artists look to these giants of the past.”

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Patrick was involved in community development projects and stood firmly against gender-based violence.

As a former abuser, he founded the Khuluma Ndoda Men’s Social Movement Against Violence for men, young and old to participate in the fight against GBV. In an interview with Move! magazine, Patrick’s wife Mmasechaba Shai told the magazine the abuse in her marriage stopped when he got a role as an abuser in a local drama called Soul City in 1997.

“He played the role of an abusive husband. He broke down when he saw the recorded scenes because he could see himself in the character. The crew booked sent him for counseling and he started dealing with this,“ she said. 

“Patrick slowly became a changed man – the man I fell in love with. He started giving motivational talks about his abusive life. At first, I was not happy that he was opening up to the public about our life. I was not emotionally ready to deal with the questions from my family and friends.”

Mmasechaba says that Patrick went on to start Khuluma Ndoda to help abusive men.

“He was ready to make a difference in his community and in the lives of his friends. He went on to star in a Brother’s for Life advertisement, speaking out about abuse. Many people thought that he was just acting and they didn’t believe that he was abusive. He was loved by many people in the community because he was always friendly. He was the go-to guy when one needed advice.”

The memorial service of Patrick Shai will be held at the Market Theatre on 27 January 2020 from 12:00 until 15:00 and the burial on 29 January 2022, details of the venue will be confirmed.

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