Drunkard or genius?. . . In search of the real Mackay ‘Sakhamuzi’ Tickeys

The late Mackay “Sakhamuzi” Tickeys

The late Mackay “Sakhamuzi” Tickeys

Bruce Ndlovu
FINDING the grave of legendary actor Mackay “Sakhamuzi” Tickeys is not an easy task.

Most of the people who he befriended or shared the stage with have simply no idea where those who survive him reside.

According to Fortune Ruzungude, the man who starred opposite Tickeys as Folomani in Sinjalo, Tickey’s family has relocated to South Africa. Although he used to live a stone’s throw away from his fellow cast member, Ruzungude is not entirely sure of what became of Tickeys’ family.

Instead, he passes on another contact to this reporter and from that number the trail grew cold again.

Veteran actor and director Memory Kumbota remembers that when he passed away, Tickeys had a wife and a young daughter. He is also at a loss about the family’s current whereabouts.

The search for the real Sakhamuzi is not an easy one. In his prime, Tickeys was one of Zimbabwe’s most respected actors, a master of his craft who lived and breathed for the roles that he took on whether on stage or on TV.

So dedicated was he to his craft that retired arts practitioner Cont Mhlanga remembers how Tickeys would become consumed by a role he was cast in.

“He was so dedicated to his craft. If the script said that he should play a beggar then he would go to the railway station and live as a beggar for five weeks just so that he could play the role of one. After those five weeks he would come back and say now I’m ready to play this role,” Mhlanga said.

Despite glowing praise from Mhlanga and others in the arts, Tickeys’ legacy is not exactly clear cut. His death in 2006 almost led to an uprising at Amakhosi, after an obituary  claimed that the actor had led an irresponsible life that had led to his early death.

“Tickeys celebrated his performing success by beer drinking, women and died a pale shadow of the township hero that he was, poor and penniless with nothing to show for his achievements . . . At the end of the day people blame us as producers when they see an actor dying without anything. They tend to believe we swindle actors out of their earnings,” the statement which was later withdrawn, said.

A ferocious fight had followed that statement, with Mhlanga in the end getting a court order to bar some performers that had become hostile to him especially in the aftermath of that damning obituary.

While he seemed to have gone the way of many artistes before and after him, there were those that were prepared to fight so that his image was not tarnished as he headed for the grave.

So exactly who was Mackay Tickeys? Was he a down and out drunkard that passed without a penny to his name on 16 June 2006 or was he a man of the people, people who were even prepared to fight tooth and nail and risk their own livelihood so that his name would not live in infamy posthumously?

“If you got to know him well he was a different person off the stage. Funny and fun loving yes, but he had his softer side, his fears, his ambitions, his love for his daughter uS’phongo and his nephews. He was a strong father figure. Just like the best of us he would mess up from time to time uBhudas. We all called him Bhudas by the way. Even today I still call him that.

Sometimes we messed up together but it was all in good natured fun,” said Kumbota.

According to the veteran arts practitioner, it was on stage that Tickeys was most at home. It made him a sought after actor who even A-list stars wanted to star opposite to.

“I found him to be very, very talented. It was like everything came easy to him and he would not struggle to get into character like most of us do. He just flowed. I believe Mackay did not ‘act’, he became. He would not act a character but became the character. That is why I guess people thought that his stage and screen persona was what he lived. Nothing could be further from the truth.

“All along in our relationship I wanted to act with him but I remember Cont would say that we’re too similar. Meanwhile, I directed him again in Mopani Junction — the radio drama series. But then that chance came in Lewis Ndlovu’s Dingane and the Rooftop production of Wole Soyinka’s From Zia with Love, directed by Cont Mhlanga and Dawn Parkinson,” he said.

On the set of Sinjalo, a risky, yet groundbreaking production that tackled the politics of tribe and friendship in modern day Zimbabwe, Tickeys had kept the spirits up with his home.

“He made sure that we were more like a family on the set. He was someone who just enjoyed cracking jokes and Mackay would notice that the mood was down and start cracking jokes. If you didn’t laugh then he would start laughing at the jokes himself then you would find yourself joining in even against your will,” said Ruzungude.

However, sometimes this humour would give away to anger, something that at times mirrored some of the raging men he portrayed on screen.

“He had a great sense of humour but could also get angry pretty easily. He hated to be underrated or looked down upon,” said Kumbota.

The difficulty one has in finding those that survive Tickeys is just an illustration of how difficult it is to find out who some of the departed people that gave Zimbabweans smiles over the years, truly were. Once the curtain came down on his life, it was as if Tickeys’ existence had been wiped out. The man whose karate skills were legendary on the rough streets of Makokoba had never existed.

“The legacy that he left was on stage and nothing off it. This is generally a weakness among artistes of the older generation.

Their legacy is only tied to what they did on stage and it was the case with him as well. When you talk about all their life, all you can talk about is what they did on stage and nothing off it. There’s nothing tangible that they left behind. So all our memories of him are tied to what he did on stage and that’s it,” said Raisedon Baya.

For Kumbota, the lasting memories he will always have of Tickeys are also tied to the late actor’s last days on earth. Lying there on his deathbed, Tickeys would spend his days practising, preparing for a last performance that never was.

“The one I would never forget is the Workshop Negative we did in Los Angeles, California. Workshop is like “the classic” and for me that was a defining moment. Bhudas held my hand through and through and helped me in every way to successfully fit in highly talented cast of him, Chris Hurst and Dr Chris Jones I think. It was in California that he first fell ill and was admitted to hospital.

“I used to visit him every day and he would take me through my lines and the nurses would come in and ask, ‘are you rehearsing’ and we would say, ‘no, we are chatting.’ It happened until they jokingly threatened to ban me from visiting. Well, he recovered only to relapse and succumb to the illness while we were back home. I guess that Workshop Negative in California was his last stage performance,” he said.