Shaleen Surtie-Richards got a hero’s send-off in a televised state funeral that was attended by government ministers and the who’s who of showbiz yesterday.
Flags flew at half mast in the Western Cape in honour of the legendary actress, who received a special provincial funeral in Durbanville.
After taking a beautiful bouquet from Shaleen’s coffin, members of the South African Police draped her coffin in the South African flag before it was lowered into the ground.
Some of Shaleen’s favourite local singers, including Curt and Alecia Adams, Karin Kortje and Mujahid George, provided beautiful music throughout the service.
During Alecia’s heartfelt rendition of Amazing Grace, there was not a dry eye among mourners at the Durbanville Memorial Park.
Shaleen, 66, died on Monday at a Cape Town guest house from natural causes.
Born in Upington and raised in Cape Town, the screen and stage star was best known for her iconic roles as Nenna in soapie Egoli: Place of Gold and in the title role in the local film Fiela se Kind.
She was divorced and did not have any children.
Shaleen was granted a Category 2 Special Provincial Funeral by the presidency, following a request by her family and Western Cape Premier Alan Winde.
Among those who attended were Shaleen’s industry peers June van Merch, Basil Appollis and Royston Stoffels, as well as national Minister of Sport, Arts and Culture, Nathi Mthethwa, and Western Cape Minister of Cultural Affairs and Sport, Anroux Marais.
During the tribute done by Shaleen’s niece, Michelle Surtie-De Bruyn, the grief experienced by her family on her passing was poignantly highlighted.
Barely holding back her tears, Michelle said: “Little over six years ago, I had the privilege of making a speech at auntie Shaleen’s 60th birthday.
“The pressure of that privilege became a little bit overwhelming, South African celebrities and South African Surties. I was intimidated by the former but inspired by the latter.
“On that day, Aunty Shaleen called me and told me, “Miche, my kind, jy’s ‘n Surtie. Moenie vir jou worry van die mense nie, ons is die mense.
“Today I’m standing here once again, celebrating Aunty Shaleen’s life, South Africa’s Aunty.
“As a family we’ve experienced this nation’s love for Aunty Shaleen in a way I will never be able to articulate. You’ve kept our broken hearts together.
“We knew Auntie Shaleen was famous, but this week we realised she was loved way beyond measure,” said Michelle, adding that her “larger than life aunt with bangles swinging, lashes batting and blonde hair blowing in the wind” inspired and guided them into adulthood.
In between the tears, June, Basil, and Royston spoke of lighter moments with Shaleen.
Basil said besides Shaleen’s flashy fashion sense, it was her lekker bekkie that captivated him most.
“‘n Bek wat definitief moet jêm kry,” Basil said as he reminisced how Shaleen transitioned from being a school teacher to acting.
“At this particular meeting, she told us of the personalities of four and five-year-olds in her classroom and how much she misses them.
“Her school was in the heart of the struggling Cape Town community.
“I could gather she was the most extraordinary teacher,” said Basil, adding that Shaleen had the uncanny ability to make tragic stories humorous.
Lionel Surtie, Shaleen’s brother, officiated over her funeral.
The vote of thanks was done by Shaleen's best friend Rif'at Brouwers, manager of Choice Rehabilitation Centre of which she was a goodwill ambassador.
President Cyril Ramaphosa also paid tribute to Shaleen, saying: “On stage and screen, Shaleen Surtie-Richards held a mirror to our unjust past and gave us hope for our future as a nation. May her soul rest in peace.”