Last week fans of the popular soapie, Isibaya, were astounded when a wedding scene turned into a bloodbath that left two principal characters dead and many injured.
Zama Ngwenya’s death has been a bitter pill to swallow, even for the actress who played her.
“The entire episode was so sad, it had everyone crying,” Linda Mtoba said.
“When we filmed it, my colleagues cried because I was leaving and they were sad about that. So was I, but I was not on set when they were filming their scenes, so I saw it only on the night the episode aired. I called all of them to tell them how amazing they were.”
The actress burst on to our screens more than two years ago as the teenage daughter of a Durban taxi boss. She immediately became a fan favourite, signalling the rise of her star.
Born and raised in uMlazi, south of Durban, Mtoba never saw herself becoming an actress.
“I grew up with a very strict, single mother. She was the kind of mother who expected you in the house when the street lights went on. If you were not inside, she came outside to deal with you. As an adult, I understand why she was strict - she was just protecting me. Although she isn’t very strict on my younger brother.”
Mtoba became her brother’s disciplinarian and protector.
“There is a eight-year gap between my brother and I - and that is a lot, so I have always been like a second mother to him.
“We have always been at different stages in our lives, so it’s not like other siblings who don’t have a huge age gap. I have always felt the need to protect him and make sure he’s okay, but I also set him straight when he is wrong because my mother often tells me to. Maybe she’s lost her mojo to be strict, or mothers just really do have a soft spot for their sons.”
Mtoba said she was leading a normal life as a primary school teacher, teaching Zulu, when a friend encouraged her to audition for a role on Isibaya.
“My friend just sent me information on an open audition. I thought she was crazy because I had no interest in acting. I never saw myself on TV, so I didn’t take her seriously.
“She forced me to send my information and, the next day, I got a call back to audition in front of the casting directors.”
After joining a long queue of other hopefuls, she lost her nerve and considered ditching the entire thing.
“There were professional performers, people who graduated from drama school. I was extremely intimidated and wanted to go, especially after speaking to some of the people and seeing their passion.
“However, something in me told me to stay. I mean I had got up very early that morning to be there. I always say that the answer will always be ‘no’ if you don’t ask, so I stayed and auditioned.”
A week later, she received a call that changed her life forever.
“When I got the call, they said I made it through, and I said: ‘Through what?’ because I was confused. They told me I needed to be in Joburg for another round of auditions. They flew me up and the very same day I had to act out scenes with seasoned actors like Menzi Ngubane and Thuli Thabethe, my on-screen family.
“At the end of the day, they said the job was mine and I said: ‘But what about the other girls?’ They told me that there were no other girls, they had chosen me from the first audition.”
Speaking candidly about her audition, the beauty said: “I don’t know how I did it. I remember them giving us a brief on the character and I think I managed to find her within me because I have a lot of empathy for people, I love listening to other people and trying to help, so I think that helped me”.
The young starlet said her family, including her then fiancée (they got married last year) were all supportive and encouraged her.
“My mom was amazing. She obviously asked important questions about me moving to Joburg and starting a new career.
“My husband was and has always been the most supportive person in my life. When I got this job, we were still engaged and he never faulted with his support. I would often be sad, would question my abilities and want to go back to Durban but he kept pushing me. He is really remarkable and always wants me to better myself.”
Although Mtoba enjoys her new career path, she initially found the early mornings and dealing with fame difficult.
“I absolutely love my sleep, so you’ve got to really love your job if you get picked up at 5am. I also stay in Durban so I flew to Joburg to shoot my scenes and then would fly back home.
“I didn’t want to be famous and if I could do this without the fame, I would. But that’s impossible. I remember when I first started, people would greet me in the mall and praise my work. I’d wonder if the person was a family friend or maybe someone from church I didn’t recognise.
“It was funny but fame has taught me some hard lessons, too: people are very mean but I don’t bother about them anymore.”
One of the biggest lessons she learnt was from her on-screen father, Ngubane.
“He told me that acting isn’t a job - it’s a craft and you need to be diligent. You have to constantly practise, take your script home and learn your lines and be invested in your character.
“Whenever he was on set, he knew what he was doing. I appreciate having worked alongside him and so many others on the show.”
Mtoba said her departure from one of the biggest programmes in the country was bitter-sweet.
“May I first just clarify that I was not fired from Isibaya? Nothing bad happened. People keep asking me if I was fired. No, but like on any other show, storylines develop, characters grow, they come and go and that’s what’s happened with Zama; she served her purpose.
“I loved working on Isibaya and will miss it. Everyone there was like family.”
On what the future holds, Mtoba hinted that she would be on a new show but was reluctant to offer any details.
“All I am saying is keep your eyes on Dstv’s new channel, 1Magic. The day Zama died is the same day a new show started. That’s all I’m saying,” she said.