Before I saw Dieketseng Mnisi on stage in the role of KaMadonsela (Lady Macbeth) in Umabatha, Welcome Msomi’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, I didn’t know that an actor could embrace a character heart and soul the way she could.
It was a magical performance that inspired me to watch the production more than once. In one show, her co-lead character, Thabani Patrick Tshanini (Mabatha) was off-sick and Msomi himself had to step in the role that he originally assumed in 1971 when the production premiered at the then University of Natal.
Her combination with Msomi, the playwright and director himself, on that evening was just priceless, a very fond memory that I can’t cherish enough. That was in 1995 at the then Civic Theatre (Joburg Theatre) when the show was staged for the first time in a new South Africa since its 1971 opening.
It went on to tour world stages from 1972 with Msomi and his wife, Thuli Dumakude in the lead. When it returned to the country in 1995, Mnisi was already a stage veteran with at least seventeen years experience in the industry.
In 1978 she was a 17-year-old schoolgirl who was learning to recite her lines at the garage of a Dube, Soweto home owned by the father of township theatre himself, Gibson Kente – a hard taskmaster but fine talent scout who knew a rough gem when he saw one.
She would eventually become a sparkling diamond following her debut in The Taximan and the School Girl (1978), one of Kente’s famous plays that poignantly portrayed the vicissitudes of township life.
Those who witnessed the production’s opening towards the end of 1978 at the DOCC in Orlando recalled how Mnisi and her co-stars performed like seasoned stars and impressed appreciative audiences with their natural abilities.
Forty years later, the vivacious, easy-going actress with hilarious jokes and boisterous laughter has become one of the country’s best-loved television performers.
Her character of MaNtuli in Skeem Saam is one of the reasons viewers tune in to enjoy the popular SABC1 drama series that’s broadcast daily at 6:30pm.
It’s a role that somehow mirrors her real life experiences. MaNtuli is a single parent who has to face the challenge of raising three children – Zamokuhle “Kwaito” Seakamela (Clement Maosa) and his sisters, Sthoko (Innocent Sadiki) and Pretty (Lerato Marabe).
Her husband, Lucas Seakamela (Patrick Shai) abandoned her and the children in the early episodes of the series when it started in 2012. A strict but loving parent, MaNtuli has done her best to raise her children as responsible adults who value education even though the role has never been plain sailing.
She has been to hell and back with Kwaito, a bright student, budding writer and promising scientist who unfortunately has had more than his fair share of misfortunes. Problems have followed the young man like an evil spell.
In matric, the aspiring novelist’s ex-girlfriend, Lelo Mthiyane (Amanda du Pont), stole his manuscript to cash on his royalties and left him for dead in a raging inferno. In April this year, his science lecturer, Mr Spiller (Jurgen Hellberg), stole his engineering project and when he was found murdered, Kwaito was identified by investigators as suspect number one.
On the other hand, MaNtuli’s work-related problems culminated in her losing her job as a switchboard operator at a local hospital.
In real life, Mnisi (57) is the proud mother of two grown-ups who are in their early thirties. She met her ex-husband, Jabu Nkosi – Chirwali in the popular SABC1 sitcom, Emzini Wezinsizwa – on the set of a Gibson Kente play.
They have since divorced but the separation didn’t stop her from moving on and finding meaning and purpose for her life. Like MaNtuli, she’s a stoic and strong woman who had put her family first against all odds.