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22 Mzansi stars that ruled TV in the ’80s and ’90s

Connie Ferguson. Picture: Instagram

Connie Ferguson. Picture: Instagram

Published Sep 24, 2020


Before the internet and social media, landing that big break and becoming a TV star was a big deal.The stories of these celebrities were wonderfully captured and celebrated in newspapers and on the radio.

This generation of talent took their craft very seriously. It was underpinned by consuming passion. They understood, better than anyone, the journey mandated a lot of hard work. There were no shortcuts to fame.

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That’s what makes the ‘80s and ‘90s such glorious eras for the South African TV landscape. Over the years, the blueprint evolved with technology.

Although we now enjoy the luxury of options on streaming and traditional platforms, it wouldn’t have been possible without the hard work and humble beginnings of many. We celebrate some of them below:

Steve Hofmeyr

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Steve Hofmeyr. Picture: Supplied

While he was establishing himself as a singer, Hofmeyr was a popular face on SABC.

He bagged roles in “Agter Elke Man”, a local drama, where he was cast as Bruce Beyers. He later became a regular on the cast of M-Net’s “Egoli”.

Henry Cele

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Henry Cele. Picture: Supplied

In 1986, “Shaka Zulu” aired on TV. The 10-part series was directed by William C. Faure and written by author Joshua Sinclair. It was one of the biggest TV shows of its time.

And, in agreeing to play the role of great Zulu warrior, King Shaka kaSenzangakhona, Cele cemented his career and remained an icon for viewers. Sadly, he passed away on November 2, 2007.

Gavin Hood

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Gavin Hood. Picture: Supplied

He may be a Hollywood heavyweight these days but in 1993, he was a young actor cast in “The Game”, a 13-part series.

Honestly, I remember tuning in every week to watch it but, for the life of me, I can’t remember the premise other than it involved the game of rugby.

He played Charlie Bates. The show also starred Zane Meas, Mark Mulder and Ashley Hayden.

Joe Mafela

Joe Mafela, known to most people as “Sdumo”, starring in the South African television sitcom, “It’s Good It’s Nice”. Picture: Penguin Films.

When it came to comedy in SA, the late Mafela was the go-to guy. And he killed it.

Whether it in the Zulu-language comedy, “‘Sgudi 'Snaysi” or “Going Up”, he was a hoot.

And, let’s be honest, can you really look at a Chicken Licken ad without him and his larger-than-life personality coming to mind.

Back then, he was fondly referred to as the Bill Cosby of SA television.

Nimrod Nkosi

Nimrod Nkosi. Picture: Supplied

He was the yin to Vinolia Mashego’s yang on “Jam Alley”.

This was the show for the youth in South Africa.

And Nkosi was celebrated as one of the coolest (that word was hip back then, don’t judge) presenter in town.

He also proved himself a great actor in the Zulu drama, “Ubambo Lwami”, in 1994.

Frank Opperman

Frank Opperman. Picture: Supplied

This well-known South African actor was a riot in “Orkney Snork Nie”, which was a popular Afrikaans comedy, which aired from 1989 to 1992.

Mary Twala

Mary Twala. Picture: Supplied

’A tour de force’ in theatre and film, the late Twala started making inroads in the growing TV industry.

She bagged roles in “Die Sonkring II” (1993) and “Inkom' Edla Yodwa” (1989).

Of course, as the years wore on, she was cast in some of the biggest homegrown shows.

Tina Jaxa

Tina Jaxa. Picture: Supplied

She was one of the standouts in the soap world. She started out in SABC1’s “Generations” as Priscilla Mthembu before joining SABC3’s “Isidingo: The Need” as Lorraine Dhlomo.

When it came to getting her hustle on, Jaxa was in her element.

The characters she played saw jaws drop and she was unapologetic about it.

Talk about a live wire personality.

Seputla Sebogodi

Seputla Sebogodi. Picture: Supplied

Although he started out in local Pedi drama “Bophelo Ke Semphekgo”, playing the role of Nkwesheng, who had a roving eye, it was the hit sitcom, “Suburban Bliss”, where he shot to fame.

This show got the entire country laughing over the daily misunderstandings and frustrations between the Dwyer’s, a white family, and the Moloi’s.

Sebogodi was the patriarch in the black family.

This show was a big deal because it looked at the funnier side of a country in transformation.

Strini Pillai

Strini Pillai. Picture: Supplied

He was one of the first Indian actors to feature on a soap. He played the devilishly handsome Deven Maistry on “Generations”. Thahira Syed played his wife, Shaan. They were such a cute couple.


Johan Stemmet. Picture: Chris Collingridge

Stemmet is synonymous with “Noot vir Noot” on SABC.

He hosted the popular Afrikaans game show from 1991 until 2018.

In the ‘80s, he presented a variety of music shows.

He also presented “A Word Or 2”, which ran on SABC2 for nine years, as well as “Wise Up”, on the same channel.

Sello Maake ka Ncube

Sello Maake ka Ncube. Picture: Supplied

I can still picture his disarming smile as Archie Moroka on SABC1’s “Generations”.

Back then, he had short hair and later dreadlocks. In fact, he was rather dashing and a sex symbol in SA.

His rich baritone voice made him even more unforgettable.

Aside from doing an unusually high number of movies, he also appeared in “Homeland” as Vusi (1996) and “Hearts & Minds” as Pietrus (1995).

Shaleen Surtie-Richards

Shaleen Surtie-Richards. Picture: detoiPHOTOGRAPHY

She is best remembered for her role as Ester (Nenna) Willemse on “Egoli: Place of Gold”.

In fact, she is one of the few actors who were with SA’s first soapie, the longest.

She was that aunty, everyone could identify with.

She was a no-nonsense person. If anyone stepped out, she was quick to bring them back in line.

And she enjoyed the regular banter, where she caught up on the latest gossip. Viewers loved her.

Pamela Nomvete

Pamela Novete. Picture: Supplied

As I write this, I’m having a flashback to Nomvete as Ntsiki Lukhele on “Generations”.

Back then she was celebrated as the “super-b***h” of the small screen.

I can still remember those crazy eyes and teeth grinding when she was enraged.

It felt as if her head was about to explode and that’s when you know s**t just got real.

Marah Louw

Marah Louw. Picture: Supplied

The singer and actress stole the limelight as Catherine Mukwevho in SABC2’s “Muvhango”.

She was a powerhouse character along with the late Candy Moloi, who played Vho-Makhadzi.

Lilian Dube

Lilian Dube. Picture: Supplied

Who could forget Dube as Sister Bettina in the hit drama, “Soul City”?

She was such a remarkable actress.

She slipped into the skin of her character with complete ease.

The gripping series was set in a fictional township, where social, health and development issues were tackled.

It represented the struggles of SA’s poverty-stricken communities.

Viewers will also remember her as Masebobe in “Generations”, too.

Brümilda Van Rensburg

Brümilda van Rensburg. Picture: Supplied

The award-winning actress graced the covers of many magazines.

While fans remember her as Louwna Edwards in “Egoli: Place of Gold”, she was in a few Afrikaans shows, too.

She was in “Ballade vir 'n Enkeling II” (1993) and “Die Binnekring” (1990).

Connie Ferguson

Connie Ferguson. Picture: Supplied

The darling of the soapie world. That’s Ferguson for you. While she is a powerhouse producer these days, back then she stole the hearts of South Africans as Karabo Moroka in “Generations”. When it came to being a role model, she was exactly that for female viewers. She stood her ground as Karabo in what was arguably a male-dominated world.

Sophie Ndaba

Sophie Ndaba. Picture: Supplied

She now goes by the name of Sophie Lichaba, but this veteran actress will forever remain Queen Moroka in the hearts and minds of fans of “Generations”. Her loquacious, not forgetting meddlesome personality, was more endearing than annoying. She spoke her mind and was always camera (and cover) ready.

Michelle Botes

Michelle Botes played Cherel de Villiers on SABC3s "Isidingo". Picture: Antoine de Ras

This inimitable South African actress was celebrated as the ultimate female villain in “Isidingo: The Need”.

She stole the show as Cherel de Villiers. Nothing got in her way. She had plenty of blood on her hands but her conscience justified her actions.

In the early 80s, she was also in popular Afrikaans series like “Liewe Hemel”, “Minnaar Onder die Wapen” and “Triptiek”.

These days, she holds her own in “Binnelanders”.

Martin Bailie

Martin Bailie. Picture: Supplied

He hosted “Telly Fun Quiz”, a popular game show back in the 90s.

The spectacle-wearing presenter had a very calm demeanour as he went through his list of questions.

Whichever team hit the buzzer and answered correctly got to choose a telly, which contained their prize for that round.

Eddie Eckstein was part of the cast including a gorgeous female, whose name escapes me.

Ruda Landman

Ruda Landman. Picture: Supplied

She fearlessly co-anchored “Carte Blanche” with Derek Watts when it started airing on M-Net in 1988.

It was and still is, one of the leading investigative current affairs shows. She left in 2007.

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