When you meet Thabo Mkhabela, you instantly notice different personal qualities from those of Leshole Mabitsela, the character he plays on the popular SABC1 soapie, Skeem Saam.
An introvert, loner, insecure and a slow learner are some of the words that can be used to describe the character he portrays, but in reality he is the complete opposite.
Mkhabela landed his first soapie role in the fourth season of Skeem Saam two years ago. His character, Leshole, is an abused child who lives with his drunkard father, Big Boy Mabitsela (real name Charles Maja). The Mabitselas have it hard, as they only survive on an income the father makes as a mechanic.
Big Boy takes out all his frustrations on his son, which leads to him performing poorly at school and lacking social skills.
Despite all the ordeals he’s faced with, Leshole is good with words and recently won a spelling bee competition.
The Bushbuckridge-born actor says he constantly gets cheers and praises for “nailing” the role that leaves most viewers on the edge of their seats and says portraying it isn’t a challenge at all. The challenge however, comes when he has to face society.
“I’ve always wanted to play these kinds of characters, where people think cracking them would be a challenge. I really enjoy it,” he said.
“When it comes to society, being Leshole is hard, because when you go out there, people expect you to be this shy boy that you are not and the treatment you get is just different.”
The 25-year-old also shared that he was in the same class with someone whose qualities resembled those of his character.
He reflected on the behaviour of his peer and put in into practice. “I did three grades with a guy like Leshole back in high school, but he was far worse than Leshole; even when he tried to talk his voice was very soft,” he said.
Research also helped him grow in terms of the role.
Growing up, he never saw himself as an actor, but a lawyer instead.
After finishing school, he wanted to pursue law, but he was placed under the faculty of humanities where he ended up enrolling in a BA in performing arts at the University of Limpopo.
He completed his studies in 2015.
Mkhabela, who is also a poet and dancer, said he looked up to Bonginkosi “Zola” Dlamini for inspiration and said the talent the rapper has is extreme, despite him being off our screens.
For now, fans will only be seeing him in Skeem Saam as he is all about building a brand and growth first. “People will be seeing me on other shows some day, just not now…”