Isibaya's Sibusiswe Jili and Vusi Kunene
Isibaya's Sibusiswe Jili and Vusi Kunene
Sibusiswe Jili
Sibusiswe Jili

Despite having no acting credentials, Sibusisiwe Jili bowled over the creative team to secure the plum role of Zanele, Bhekifa’s mistress and the manageress of Club Sheba, in Mzansi Magic’s award-winning soap, Isibaya. Debashine Thangevelo caught up with the go-getter to find out more about her journey.

A LACK of finances kept her from completing her media and communications degree (majoring in media and drama) at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, but that didn’t keep Sibusisiwe Jili from making other strides.

After bagging a job at a marketing company, she oversaw the progressions division within the firm and was involved in the creative side of doing promotions for not only her own newly-established company, but other companies as well.

And this was while she was still holding down her modelling portfolio, which led to her trying out for a hosting spot on Top Billing.

Jili recalls: “Top Billing was during my varsity years. I was promoting Appletiser throughout the duration of the competition in Durban and Joburg.

“The brief was to keep contestants refreshed and we would occasionally refresh the judges as well. I had a crush on Janez Vermeiren and asked to refresh his team. To my surprise, he asked me to audition. Shock, horror, gasp!

“So after they had gone through the contestants, I gave it a try. I went through to Joburg’s Top 100. I was grateful for the experience as it opened my eyes to the mentality I should carry when I get into entertainment.”

She was clearly destined for the small screen, though.

After receiving an e-mail from a friend about The Bomb Shelter casting for Zanele, a 28-year-old who is, aside from the manager of Club Sheba, also Bhekifa’s (Vusi Kunene) mistress, she gave it a shot.

She continues: “My friend believed I fit the description of what they were looking for. I decided to try my luck. I sent them some pictures from my modelling portfolio with a message that read: ‘I believe I am what you are looking for’. It was really just a shot in the dark, but to my surprise I received a call the next day asking why I missed my interview. You see, in Pietermaritzburg, where I live, my phone often loses reception.”

Fortunately, it ended well for her as she got to audition eventually.

Jili says she has had a profound love for the performing arts since high school, but never saw herself in front of the camera.

She laughs: “It was more of a suppressed action that always managed to sneak its way into my life. So this was really the first time I had been presented with such an idea. I was at a loss for words at the level I had suddenly jumped to. The tears just kept flowing.”

On getting to work alongside the inimitable Kunene, Jili praises: “He has such a powerful presence, but his humbleness is what I was drawn to. He is very helpful and has a lot to give (as a performer). I’m grateful for that.”

As for the gold-digger tag attached to her character, she smiles: “I’m not sure about that term. She comes across as quiet a strong character. It seems there’s an underlying power struggle that she was either born into or developed through experiences. With her youth the question does arise, I feel it’s more a matter of culture because she does possess great respect for Bhekifa and this draws a lot on rural KZN, where the older man marries the younger maidens. I feel her roots come from there and, given her up bringing, it is where the notion of ‘dating’ the older man comes in.”

While she feels very at home on set, Jili remained tight-lipped about her storyline. All she would say is: “Wow, there is a lot. I would love to give you more, but you will have to stay tuned.”

Isibaya airs on Mzansi Magic on weekdays at 8.30pm.