He was born in 1942 in Sibasa, Limpopo Province.
His father worked as a shop assistant in a Chinese shop in Sophiatown. When Mr. Mafela was three years old he left Johannesburg along with his mother, who was expecting her second child.
They returned to Limpopo where his brother was also born. Mafela’s family moved to Kliptown, south of Johannesburg in 1947. The family remained in Kliptown for five years.
In 1952 they moved to White City, Jabavu, a township that was conceived as temporary shelters for many Black families removed from one of the squatter settlement that sprang up in Soweto in the 1940s.
Mafela’s family remained in White City for another five years before moving to Tshiawelo Township. This move was consistent with the expectations of local authorities at the time. Tshiawelo was set aside for Black-Africans considered to have originally come from the Limpopo Province. These included the Venda (Mafela is a Venda), the Tsonga and to a lesser extent, the Balobedu. Mafela’s family was resident in Tshiawelo until 1990.
Joe Mafela is regarded as the face of South African entertainment and has been in the television industry for over 40 years. Apart from featuring in most of the local TV series’s, he also performed in various international features and commercials. He is also praised for being the first Black assistant director in South Africa.
His production involvement in International feature films include, Tokoloshe Diamond Walkers; Africa audio Game of Vultures, Gold Escape from Angola; Red Scorpion Shout at the Devil (locally and abroad) Freedom Fighters Tigers don’t Cry.
And the TV Series include, U’Deliwe, S’Good is Nice, Going up, Khululeka (1st voter education program), Madam and Eve; and Fela’s TV Shooting Stars.
Mafela has had an illustrious career in film, television and stage.
Joe Mafela made his acting debut in 1964, when he appeared in the feature movie “Real News” directed by Peter Hunt. In this film he played the character of an Editor.
He was only 22 years old when he started doing films. This was the beginning of a career that would span forty years, making him one of the most celebrated personalities in the Entertainment Industry.
“Real News” was followed ten years later by “Shout at the Devil”, directed by Peter Hunt, best known for having directed the James Bond movie, “From Russia with Love”.
In 1974, Mafela co-starred in South Africa’s first Black feature film, “Udeliwe” with Cynthia Shange.
In the film he played the role of Peter Pleasure, a Malawian. His performance in the movie helped endear him to Soweto’s movie goers, with many a young men mimicking his lines. In fact, it was the role of Peter Pleasure as portrayed by Mafela that made a lasting impression in many who saw “Udeliwe” than the movie itself, as some have asserted.
“Shout at the devil” was shot at Brodestroom, west of Pretoria, near Haartebeespoort Dam. The movie was during the 1976 Soweto riots.
During the 1980s his television career took off. Joe Mafela starred in a Zulu Language sitcom “Sgudi ‘Snaysi” which translates to “it is good… it is nice” in English, in which he portrayed the character of “Sdumo.” This sitcom became a major hit in Black television as it ran to 78 episodes on the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC).
Mr. Mafela had established a great working relationship with the SABC and that’s where he started doing advertising through the BBDO as a creative Director. He did a lot of work producing, voice-overs, radio materials and advertising.
At that stage, Television was starting to boom. Mafela had developed a great working relationship with Roberta Durrant-Creative Director of Penguin Films. The relationship has matured to the extent that, he now co-owns Penguin Films and is also its creative Director and Producer.
In 1996, Joe Mafela released his first music album with the record company, Gallo Records based in Johannesburg. The album, named Shebeleza,-became a huge success. The title track, Shebeleza, was used as a theme song during the Africa Cup of Nations in 1996, which South Africa hosted for the first time and won it.
He has since released three more albums in his musical career. His lyrics are a combination of South Africa’s official languages and local lingua franca. In the New millennium he was considered a pioneer and veteran in the Entertainment Industry.
In 2005, Mr. Joe Mafela received a Theatre Management of South Africa Lifetime Achievement award at the Naledi Theatre Awards. This was followed by numerous awards that include the Duku duku award sponsored by a local Magazine Television show. Mafela also scooped the best actor in comedy award at the South African Film and Television Awards (SAFTA). He had also won awards in the 1990s.
Joe Mafela has been in the entertainment industry for more than forty years and still has more to give, he says. He still remains as humble as he was when he started in the industry.
Sometimes called “the face of South African entertainment” and as “South Africa’s Bill Cosby”, he starred as recently as 2011 in the thriller Retribution. Nonetheless, the aging Mafela complained in 2012 that it was hard for him to get acting work.
He said he’s been told that he is “old and cold.”
His filmography includes, Zulu (1964); Tokoloshe (1971), Shout at the Devil (1976), Escape from Angola (1976), A Game for Vultures (1979), ‘Sgudi ‘Snaysi (1986) (TV), Red Scorpion (1989), Khululeka (1993) (TV), Madam and Eve (2000) (TV), Fela’s TV (2004) (TV).
Mafela’s discography includes, “Shebeleza Felas” (1995), “The Fort E No. 4” (2007).