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David Genaro: A Rare, Dramatic Heavyweight & National Treasure

As an actor of stage and screen, Jamie Bartlett blurred the lines of art and life, embedding a legendary character in the psyche of his audi...

As an actor of stage and screen, Jamie Bartlett blurred the lines of art and life, embedding a legendary character in the psyche of his audiences.

And while his tombstone may refer to him as Bartlett, to millions of Africans across the continent, he was David Genaro, an on-screen deity who for years wowed them with his larger-than-life performances on television.
Buntu FY Hweshe

He was a rare, dramatic heavyweight of the screen and nothing short of a national treasure. Bartlett died of a heart attack on 23 May at the age of 55 at his home in Sophiatown, Johannesburg.

Bartlett embraced, popularised and immortalised Genaro, a character in the prime-time drama Rhythm City. The popular series ran for 14 years, rolling its last credits on 16 July 2021.

Starring on the show for 13 years in more than 3 000 episodes, Bartlett breathed life into Genaro, a wicked puppet master who ran a successful radio station, 9-9FM, as well as the accompanying magazine 9-9 Mag.

Alongside the screen, Bartlett acted in many plays at Johannesburg’s Market Theatre. His professional career started in 1986 with Cock and Bull Story, in which Bartlett played a gay boxer. The role won him a Vita Award for most promising actor – a promise he heartily fulfilled.

The actor would go on to appear in several other plays, including Death of a Colonialist, The Fire Raiser and East.
David Genaro: A Rare, Dramatic Heavyweight, National Treasure
In 1997, he starred in The Sexy Girls, an action television drama about gangs in Cape Town that aired on M-Net. If Genaro is the lead character of Bartlett’s career, Mike O’Riley might be the supporting character.

The actor played the role in the classic nightly soapie Isidingo, and was the first person to speak in the very first episode on 7 July 1998.

He guest starred in the South African-Canadian television series Jozi-H, a hospital drama set in Johannesburg, and was a judge on the popular reality show SA’s Got Talent.

Paying tribute, South African film producer Anant Singh said he worked with Bartlett for more than three decades, starting with the Iraq war-themed film Bravo Two Zero; followed by the Truth and Reconciliation film Red Dust, in which he played an apartheid-era security police officer; the thriller Prey; and the film Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom.

Singh said Bartlett was a role model to “young actors entering the world of film and television. His passing leaves a huge void in the industry and he will be missed by his peers.”
Equal education for an equal society

When Bartlett was off screen, he took time to give back by making grand entrances at classrooms around Johannesburg townships such as Katlego, Tembisa and Vosloorus. On seeing their hero, Genaro, the young people would explode into roars of excitement.

In turn, and true to his style, he would give fiery talks, sparking the flames of their imaginations by sharing knowledge, experience, wisdom and love.

In 2021, sharing a post on his Instagram page following one of his visits, he said he felt honoured to be educating “these beautiful young souls”. He was excited to see their faces light up when he touched on subjects not part of the curriculum but nonetheless important.

“Until we get equality in education, we won’t have an equal society,” he said.

Many tributes, testimonies and obituaries poured in after his death, affirming what most already knew – Jamie Bartlett was beloved across race, generation and class. 

He was loved because he elevated acting on the small screen, connected with people, nourished sensibilities and enriched imaginations.

He was affectionate and generous, and offered people a hand up. The many ordinary stories shared online offer a window into his immense character.

He is immortalised in rap. In 2016, Yung Swiss made the track David Genaro, accompanied by a remix, and a music video featuring the legend himself.

Cast in the image of Genaro and so much more, Jamie Bartlett will be remembered as someone who moved through the world with remarkable talent and even greater heart.

He is survived by his partner Rosa Onious and son, Hector. He was laid to rest in a private funeral ceremony in Cape Town on 1 June. - This article was first published by New Frame.

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