Even more recently than his friend, Nat Ramabulana has become a dad. Only a month ago, his wife Odwa gave birth to a little girl who has been all consuming in their lives.
“I couldn’t let Atandwa get away with being the only dad,” he says with a familiar twinkle. Yes, he admits there’s healthy competition between the two buddies, but they always have the other’s interest at heart. “I might be slightly envious of a part, but there’s always happiness first when the other achieves or gains something.”
It is this kind of friendship that the two youngsters (both 28 years old) are exploring in their project The Island on the Market stage. And Nat was the one who suggested they attempt this mammoth task. “I have to keep pushing myself,” he says.
It was Atandwa’s willingness to take similar journeys that got them working together from the start.
“I have never wanted to do ‘normal’. My life has never been ordinary, it’s always been extraordinary,” he says.
And if you saw Hayani, you will know he’s using the word in all it’s depth – good and bad. “So why would I stop searching for that?” It’s always gone beyond money and fame for Nat. “And normal,” he adds.
He’s a young man who feels things deeply and when he talks about his new life with his wife and daughter, he beams and speaks with a seriousness that’s touching.
“They’ve given meaning and structure to my life,” he says. “It all feels so right.” He knows his parents fought to give him a life and he wants to honour the privileges that brought. “Life is good,” he says.
But that’s also why he doesn’t take anything for granted. The windows on another world were opened for him at a young age and he feels a responsibility to not take any of this for granted, but to lead the charge. Many times, as often as possible in fact, it will be with Atandwa in hand.
Sometimes the people who are closest to something will be the last to see it. The Island made absolute sense to Nat and he had no qualms suggesting it to his friend.
“There’s no veil between us,” he says. And that’s a rare thing.
When he talks about the rehearsal process, he describes it as “dreamlike”. He didn’t quite grasp from the start what they were recreating, but it soon hit him. Not only was he working with the great Dr Kani, he was also rehearsing a play the director had written (with fellow travellers Athol Fugard and Winston Ntshona) and starred in.
But for Nat, kani felt more like a father guiding and nourishing them through this journey and perhaps because he’s not the son, it is a simpler leap to make. Kani jr and sr had made a pact not to discuss the work at home.
“They didn’t want either of us to have any advantage,” says Nat.
Even though the experience of the play is not part of the experience of the actors participating, because the director had lived both the world and the way they recreated that world, he painted a very clear picture for the novices to work in.
“It’s amazing. People might wonder at the family dynamic with Atandwa and his father, but once we got down to it, it is three men at work,” says Nat. “It’s been fun.”
He experiences it as if the great man is passing on the baton and to be part of that has been yet another of those extraordinary occasions which make up the building blocks of his life.
When not on stage, Nat has been part of Rhythm City where he played a Congolese character who seems to have sneaked into the heart of viewers.
“I tried to play him with an honesty and I think people have caught on,” he says.
What he likes about this much more visible medium is the money, especially with his new responsi- bilities, as well as the profile it brings with it.
“We are actors after all,” he says. “It gives me the perks of my career.”
But given a choice, the one that stirs his heart and gets him living life with a sense of anticipation and heightened drama is live theatre, the stage. And doing something that’s as daring as to tackle a play still fresh in the memories of so many, with the son of the man who was part of that history-making production, that’s exactly the challenges Nat wants to grapple with.
And with Atandwa Kani as his warrior in arms, he knows they are again fighting the good fight.