Maverick Life


All rise for Bheki Cele, man of the moment, performer extraordinaire 

All rise for Bheki Cele, man of the moment, performer extraordinaire 
Image design: Maverick Life. Photo by Gallo Images/Die Burger/Jaco Marais

There is no triple-threat-performer-director-writer greater, none more talented, none more committed than our very own Bhekokwakhe Hamilton Cele.


Diary entry: 20 August 2022

Dear Diary,

I woke up today and realised — as I did yesterday and every other day this year — that I am less than a year away from my 44th birthday and still, no awards, no book deals and no Hollywood scriptwriting offers. It is not for lack of trying either.

I have reached out to so many of our biography-worthy leaders: I’ve offered to write Mr Zuma’s biography; I’ve asked Mr Malema to let me script a Netflix reality show about his life; and I’ve written to Mr Magashule, offering to write and produce a hip-hop album for him. And, in one of the lowest points of my life, I even wrote one Mr Steenhuisen to ask for a PR gig there by his rickety situation. I have not received a single response. 


And as if my life-long minibus taxi journey towards middle-age mediocrity wasn’t punishment enough for some unknown sin I might have committed in a past life, lately, young people who I refer to using the b’s I’ve used most of my life — bruh, bro, boo, babe, baller — now give me strange looks and respond by addressing me as “Uncle”, “Tata”, or worse, “Mkhulu”. Those little f***ers! 

Still, like many other mediocre journalists and ministers relegated to arts and culture desks, I fantasise that in my next life, in exchange for time served in this one, I will be imbued with enough talent to create something truly spectacular, perhaps a piece of fiction so insightful that it will live on in the minds of millions. But best to leave matters of the next life to the Fates. 

For now, I will accept my station in life and retreat to writing about those with artistic talents far greater than mine, those who have managed to create and embody amazing characters who will surely live on in our nightmares. And, in my humble opinion dearest Diary, there is no triple-threat-performer-director-writer greater, none more talented, none more committed than our very own Bhekokwakhe Hamilton Cele, aka Bheki Cele. 

Some performers make great stage actors, some are mesmerising in front of the camera, others still, verge out of the mainstream into the fine arts as performance artists. And among the most talented of these souls are those who can write, direct, produce as well as perform and embody a character, be it on stage, in front of the camera, or as a years-long durational performance art intervention. Hammy Bheks is one such undeniable talent.

I have learnt so much from studying his work. For example, long before a character utters a catchphrase that will grab the public’s attention, like Arnie’s “I’ll be bhaak”, it’s important to give them an item of clothing the audience can always associate with them.

It was so brilliant of Hamilton to incorporate that hat into the look of his character. It is to the Bheki Cele role what the mankini was to Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat; it sells his intention towards caricature so well that it lowers expectations for what might come of his mouth. One look at that hat and it’s clear that the genre is tragicomedy, albeit a seriously dark one.

I recall the time he told the cops to “shoot to kill” back in 2007, during the “KZN MEC for Safety” chapter of his durational performance piece. What incredible commentary on our country and its politics, I thought. This man was giving Rodrigo Duterte long before Duterte; he was warning us of what lay ahead. What a talent! What a prescient artist! 

Sadly, not realising that we were witnessing the work of a great artist, unimaginative journos took him literally. As if an actual IRL leader would say such a thing in an actual democratic country.

South Africans really vex my soul, Dear Diary; I am so tired of pretending to like them. But this being South Africa, we all have to behave like eternally friendly trauma-proof ubuntoids, so I guess I have to smile another day at my fellow countrymen. Ugh!

Nevertheless, ever the consummate professional, and not one to drop character under pressure, the auteur that is Hamilton merely worked this into his character, at first pretending to have never said the words “shoot to kill”, while admitting to saying, “Once criminals pull their guns, police must aim for the head.” Genius!!!

More recently, however, I must say I was once again so disappointed by the public’s reaction to the Ian Cameron incident that I have started the process of applying for emigration to Canada. I absolutely loved the way Hamilton went full Al Pacino and screamed “Shuuuuuuut Uuuuuuppp! Shuuuuuuuut Uuuuuuup!” at Ian in front the cameras. My goodness! Goosebumps! 

The way he embodied instability and volatility gave Scarface-closing-scene level of goosebumps. Phew. I wish more South Africans got Hamilton’s work and realised that the man is just offering high art commentary on our society. I personally couldn’t imagine what it would be like if he was a real-life character in a position of power. We’d be so screwed, like real-life Squid Games screwed.

I do hope one day someone will nominate Hamilton for the awards he so deserves. Maybe it’ll happen. Thankfully, our president and saviour, Matamela the Benevolent, is in on the act. He gets it. I’m 150% sure that he would never hire, as Minister of Police, a man fired by THE Jacob Zuma for corruption. Can you imagine being too corrupt for Zuma? Lolz. 

Better yet, can you imagine a corruption-busting President putting a temperamental caricature of a top cop that was too corrupt for Zuma in charge of the policing of a nation with one of the highest crime rates in the world? Never! Mat would never do that to his beloved fellow South Africans. Thank goodness we have such a cultured leader at the helm who realises that it’s all just edgy performance art with just a touch of Squid Game-style realism. 

Anyway, dear Diary, I must stop writing for the day. Let me try and find other biography-worthy politicians I can email and hopefully convince to let me write their biography. Maybe I could try that Afriforum guy, Kallie Kriel or something – there might be something there? At this rate, I might even reach out to the Orania guys; I’m sure they could do with a diversity hire at the very least. Come to think of it, such a book might even get me that damn award before I turn 50.




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