Shalima Mkongi. Picture: Supplied

Mzansi Magic’s new drama, Nkululeko, has won the hearts of South Africans in it’s very first episode which screened on Sunday, January 7. The-13 part drama series is a coming-of-age story set in the windswept streets of the infamous township, Khayelitsha and in no time trended on Twitter within the first few minutes.

Produced by the Bomb Production team in conjunction with Sibulele Magatyeni Siko-Shosha, Dumile Films, the show focuses on Nkululeko Zwai played by newcomer Aphiwe Mkefe, who is a talented mathematician preparing for a competition that could change his life and destiny forever.

However, he makes an impulsive decision in a moment of blossoming love, and suddenly finds himself in deep trouble with his friends, and everything he has worked so hard for falls apart - leaving his future in jeopardy.

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It is for this reason that we meet Portia, played by the talented Shalima Mkongi.

Mkongi, previously known for her role as seductive Ashanti on SABC 2’s Keeping Score, stretches her acting prowess in this new role. She plays the protective sister to Buhle, played by Abongile Salli, and always tries to keep him out of trouble.

Shalima Mkongi. Picture: Instagram (@shalima)

The first episode vaguely showed Mkongi, but her character is one to follow in upcoming episodes.

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“I play Portia, she is a mother, sister, daughter and granddaughter but she is also bipolar and an alcoholic. Her circumstances led her to move back to Khayelitsha to live with her grandmother who suffers from dementia. In the first episode, you get to see Portia for just a few minutes. 

"In episodes to come you will see her character develop very intensely. For me, this was the hardest character I’ve played thus far because firstly, she is an alcoholic and I don’t even drink alcohol. She’s a mother and I don’t have any kids. So I had to do extensive research in the hood to play her character and to make her believable,” said Mkongi.

She said when she was presented with the storyline, she doubted it and didn’t know if she wanted to play the part.

“The storyline was completely new to me, and was unsure about it, but when I read the script, wow, I was taken aback by it. To me it was like one of those Shonda Rhimes series. The writing was so distinct and refreshing. It’s a new experience for me and something I haven’t done before,” she said

The cast of Nkululeko. Picture: Supplied

“Even though I was just on screen for a few minutes in the first episode, fans know me from my previous roles, and so they were commenting positively on social media - which I am happy about. One person even said that “Portia looks exactly like township mother, who goes to the shebeen, gets drunk, sleeps all day while her kids play outside alone” - and the fact that they were able to pick up on that so quickly makes me happy, because that’s exactly what I was working towards,” Mkongi said.

Being surrounded by fairly new cast and still in shooting, Mkongi said she is learning a lot from her talented peers.

“I’ve never really encountered a bad cast. The cast I’m currently working with is amazing. There are a lot of new actors on this show and I am learning so much from them. They are all very talented,” she said.

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Mkongi’s dream role includes playing the role of a mentally challenged black woman.

“I am very interested in mental awareness, so my dream role would be to play a mentally challenged black women. I feel like in our community there isn’t enough awareness about mental illnesses and it’s almost as if it does not exist. I want urge writers to start writing about it,” he said.

* Tune in to Nkululeko on Sundays on Mzansi Magic (DStv Channel 161) at 8pm to see the youth of Khayelitsha navigate the challenges of the maze that is life.