Mafela died at the age of 75 in an accident on the M1 highway last night.
The Johannesburg Metro Police Department says a bakkie collided with his car.
Mafela started his career in theatre in 1964.
In a statement, the presidency says the arts and culture department has been robbed of a bigger than life figure.
At the same time the African National Congress’s Khusela Sangoni praised Mafela for his artistry.
“He was a legendary actor who inspired and groomed many that came after him. Sgudi ‘Snaysi was one of his famous roles where he played uSdumo was the soundtrack of growing up in South Africa and made us laugh as a nation.”
The National Freedom Party has also sent its condolences to the family and fans.
Spokesperson Canaan Mdletse says, “Joe Mafela played a big role in the country in encouraging young people to take acting as a serious career path.”
The parties have both described the Mafela as an artist whose work will continue to be celebrated.