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Covid-19 robbed us of the chance to give Mary Twala the farewell she deserves

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Mary Twala, Somizi on the late Mary Twala,Somizi, Mary Twala

I can’t help but imagine what Mary Twala’s funeral would have been like.

South Africa’s living legends of screen and music would be in attendance. They would be dripping in their finest black outfits, Sunday hats and designer sunglasses adorning their heads and faces. They would sing, dance and proudly speak of their friend and the many stories they have to share about their life with her.

The younger generation of actors lucky enough to have shared the screen or walked the board with her, would be next up, singing her praises and thanking her for the lessons she taught them.

And then there would be Somizi, Twala’s son. I imagine he would sing for his mother before breaking down and then pick himself up again and give the eulogy.

There would probably be a speech by the president or Nathi Mthethwa, the minister of arts and culture.

Sadly, this did not happen and Twala’s send-off in Soweto on Thursday was sombre and small.

The worst thing about Covid-19 is how it isolates us from our loved ones. It is a cold, heartless monster of a disease that reminds us just how alone we can be in the world.

And now in a time where we are supposed to come together and pay tribute to an icon, we can’t.

We can’t give her the farewell she deserves, all because of a virus that has forced us to change the way we do things.

Mary Twala receives the Order of Inkamanga in Silver for her contribution to the performing arts from President Cyril Ramaphosa and director-general Dr Cassius Lubisi in 2019. Picture: Thobile Mathonsi/African News Agency (ANA)

Mary Twala has been a constant in so many of our lives.

The 80-year-old had been performing for more than 60 years. Her last role (she plays the lead on This Is Not a Burial, It’s a Resurrection) was shot barely a year ago, showing her level of dedication to the arts. The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah earlier this year.

Her longevity in the industry has led to her being one of the most popular veteran actresses, and it’s due mostly to her talent.

Twala rose to the occasion every time she was part of a production. Her dedication to being true to what the character needed for it to be believable and evoke an emotion from viewers, was one of the best things about her.

She knocked her roles out the park, whether it was a theatre production, film, a TV drama, soap or comedy. It is why she remained a favourite for many casting directors, and became a go-to actress for local and international productions.

For many of us she will always be fondly remembered as the comic and feisty drunk maid, MaMpinga, on Undenzani Melwane.

She gave the late Nomhle Nkonyeni’s character, who was a preacher’s wife, countless headaches.

The role endeared Twala to many and even decades afterwards, the name MaMpinga stuck.

She was a versatile performer and it’s proven by her filmography. My personal favourites include her role as Mary, the Bible-bashing mother of Linda Sokhulu’s character on Ubizo: The Calling and MaKhambule on Skwizas, where she acted alongside one of her closest friends, Lillian Dube, got into all sorts of mischief and dropped the wittiest lines on the comedy.

I loved it when Twala would appear on Somizi’s reality show, Living The Dream with Somizi, because it showed what a beautiful soul she was. There was no acting there, just her being herself.

Seeing the tributes on social media from her co-stars over the years left me with a warm feeling that she was truly loved by her colleagues.

One that moved me was from Sindi Dlathu, who she co-starred with on Duma kaNdlovu’s play The Game.

“Ma,” Sindi’s message on Instagram began. “My friend. My love. You gave the best advice. You will forever be a wealth of wisdom to me. There is no one like you.”

Another tribute that moved me was from a fan, Sabelosami Dlungwane, on the role that Twala played in society by openly embracing Somizi, which was rare at the time.

“Mary Twala was a great and versatile actress. She is an icon in the South African entertainment industry. And to some of us, a great example to our parents on the acceptance of queer children. Uyibekile induku ebandla (She has laid the scepter in the congregation). May she rest in peace.”

Even though she didn’t get the send-off she deserves, in our hearts we will always have a place for her and will always remember, with fondness, why she was such a special human being and performer.

Lala ngoxolo wena okaTwala, Soyikasi, Mzingane, Donda!

-IOL