Motlatsi Mafatshe. Picture: Mpumelelo Macu

The first time I saw actor Motlatsi Mafatshe in character was in 2006 during the screening of SABC1’s "When We Were Black," an engaging four-part drama series on life in Soweto before the tragic 16 June 1976 student uprisings. 

Written by Khalo Matabane, a documentary filmmaker and director who has created a number of groundbreaking productions in this genre on South African narratives, its cast includes seasoned actors Harriet Manamela and Jerry Mofokeng in the lead. 

It introduced Matli Mohapeloa as Fistos, the socially awkward but academically astute pupil, and Motlatsi Mafatshe as his friend and classmate, Mxolisi.

Other new faces included Lali Dangazele as Fistos’ girlfriend, Mangi and Ndoni Khanyile in the role of Nozipho, the student activist who is confronted with difficult choices as the political storms of insurrection approach. 

After watching that nostalgic but poignant portrayal of a bygone era, I instantly knew that Mafatshe was destined for a brilliant career in screen acting. Mxolisi is by no means a prominent character in the series, but it’s one of those memorable and lovable ones even though at the end he proves to be a police informer and a betrayer of friendships.      

When he subsequently joined the cast of "Shooting Stars," I regarded the move as a logical and deserving one for such promising talent. In the soccer drama series that ran between 2007 and 2010, he plays the starring role of footballer, Wandile Dhlomo. 

And of course, when he eventually hit the big time in the world of soapies in 2011 as Sechaba Moloi-Matabane on SABC3’s "Isidingo," there were no surprises. And Sechaba has become one of the prominent names and indeed longest-running roles on our soapies. The character has grown over the years from a relatively peripheral role to literally occupying centre stage in the series.

He is now a mayor and hotel magnate who is going through financial challenges for his businesses. On the other hand, viewers have been taken through his on-and-off relationship with his wife, Lerato (Tema Sebopedi). 

The talented actress left the popular soapie in July when Lerato, a glamorous and successful beauty salon owner in Horizon Deep, divorced Sechaba. For years they have been the series’ famous couple and this popularity was officially confirmed in 2014 when they scooped the best couple award at the Royalty Soapie Awards.       

Although he has proven that he is skilful in front of the camera, Mafatshe has always believed that any actor worth his lines should be multi-dimensional. 

In this regard he has produced shows, notably Love Lives Here (2018), a romantic comedy film about a young novelist who is looking for love but is caught between conflicting traditional and modern ideas of romance. Directed by Norman Maake, it features Lungile Radu, Thando Thabethe, Zola Nombona, Nomalanga Shozi and himself as Duke. 

On "Isidingo" he has recently joined the team of directors. As someone who has studied production and scriptwriting, he recently made his directorial debut on the Isidingo set. It’s a move that proves that he’s more than just an actor and believes that actors should multi-task to gain more traction and independence in an industry that has become notorious for exploiting its practitioners. 

He started with directing scenes and now he is expected to direct entire episodes – every sixth episode and continue with his acting responsibilities in between. 

As far as acting, producing and directing roles are concerned, the pendulum has swung full circle for this talented thespian from Soweto.