Chi Mhende thrills alongside Paul Slabolepszy in new play ‘Fordsburg's Finest’

Paul Slabolepszy and Chi Mhende. Picture: Supplied

Paul Slabolepszy and Chi Mhende. Picture: Supplied

Published Aug 24, 2022


When Chi Mhende was in Cape Town earlier this year she manifested working on a big production in the city, and a few months later it all came to fruition.

After a five-year break from theatre, Mhende is thrilled to be back on stage as Thandeka in the compelling theatre piece “Fordsburg's Finest”.

Best known for the role of Wandile Radebe on SABC1’s “Generations: The Legacy,” Mhende told IOL Entertainment she was honoured to be part of this exciting and inspiring, yet thought-provoking masterpiece.

“I'm back on stage, for the first time since 2017 and coming from television and film, I am reminded of how magical the theatre space is,” said the Zimbabwe-born star.

“I was on ‘Generations’ until 2019. Then I worked on 'Queen Sono' in 2020. Then I directed at ‘Generations’ for the past two years, and I wasn't acting at all.

“I went back to Zimbabwe at the beginning of this year to work on a film. And while there, I got a call from Paul Slabolepszy and here I am today, back on stage again.

“This is really special because I remember saying to God, ‘I would like to be in Cape Town this year for work’.

”And now I am in Cape Town, working on a beautiful theatre piece. And I've had a chance to work on another Netflix show. I can't say yet because it hasn't been revealed…I started shooting in May,” shared Mhende.

In his latest offering "Fordsburg's Finest“, theatre doyen Paul Slabolepszy depicts an empowered and impassioned woman as the focus of his tale while taking the audience on a nostalgic journey of recognition, sensitivity and insight relating to the return of Thandeka, from an American exile to South Africa.

All she has to accompany her on the journey back home are stories, images, and half-formed pictures in her head of her homeland and her people described to her in loving detail long ago by her now deceased parents.

The single, most highly anticipated event of Thandeka's homecoming pilgrimage is a visit to the house in which she was born.

Arriving at 74 Pioneer Street in Fordsburg, clutching an out-of-date, faded street map, she is saddened to find the homestead no longer there.

Paul Slabolepszy and Chi Mhend in Fordsburg's Finest. Picture: Meghan McCabe

In its place, is a run-down used car lot, owned by "Foxy Freddie" Volschenk, played by Slabolepszy, a convivial middle-aged white South African, ex-police reservist and lover of second-hand automobiles.

“Thandeka is a young woman who works as a librarian in New York and she is a South African American who, for some time has been wanting to connect with her roots.

“When we find her at the start of this play, that is exactly what she has come to do. I won't give away too much, let the people come and experience it.

“This is the story of two strangers who find themselves through other people, which I think has been, and should be, a life lesson, and life journey.

“This week, ZiFM’s station manager shared a motivation quote, which speaks about the importance of continuing to educate oneself.

“And this doesn't mean spending money on a university degree, it can be something as simple as stepping outside your comfort zone, walking across the street to go and talk to a man or a woman you've never spoken to before.

“Young people speak to old people, black people speak to white people because it is in that learning, that you can broaden. And the next step is that you realise you knew nothing at all.

“And when you come to that realisation, it's a beautiful place because then you can continue. And that's what life is about,” said Mhende.

This unlikely encounter between Thandeka and Freddie will take the audience through unexplored regions of the “battered, still smarting South African psyche”.

“Fordburg’s Finest” is a story of homecoming, healing and ultimately, the story of hope.

"We become better people by sharing each other’s spaces and worlds and that is what this two-hander is teaching me.

“I'm exactly half the age of my co-star. I'm a woman, and I am black. He is a man and he is white. But if we were only as a result of our race, of our sex, we wouldn't share the space that we're sharing in this beautiful production.

“That is the importance of this story and that's what the story has inspired in my heart.

“I think audiences are going to enjoy this play because we're calling it a period piece, for it is set in 1996 in what would have been a two-year-old democratic South Africa. And today she’s 28 years old.

“Looking back, South Africans are going to celebrate how far she's come.

“Some elements in the story were written in 1996 but can still be heard on the streets today. And that will shock audiences to know that 28 years later, some things have not changed.

"And the one thing that is going to bind us as a nation is that you're going to have an audience that is 35 years apart. People are also going to enjoy seeing the freshness of live theatre," she said.

"Fordburg's Finest" is currently staging at Theatre on The Bay, Cape Town until September 10, before heading to Pieter Toerien, in Montecasino, Joburg.

The Joburg leg is set to run from September 14 until October 9.

Here's a list of other theatre productions showcasing around the country.


Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre, UKZN, Durban

Date: August 30 - September 11.

Edna Jaime. Picture: John Hogg

The “24th JOMBA! Contemporary Dance Experience” is back with a full live programme after a two-year break.

The theme this year centers around “the (im)possibility of home”, and offers dance and theatre fans a treat of 13 days of world-class contemporary dance and performance from both local and international dance-makers.

This edition offers a powerhouse of performances, workshops, after-performance Q & A’s, panel discussions, virtual screen dance, and the return of the “JOMBA!” youth dance platform that continues to support the growth of Durban’s young dance communities.

The Parrot Woman

The Market Theatre, Joburg

Date: August 26 - September 25.

Gontse Ntshegang and Andre Lotter in ‘The Parrot Woman’. Picture: The Market Theatre

Charles J. Fourie’s critically acclaimed play “The Parrot Woman” returns to the Market Theatre after its premier in 1990.

Set against the harsh backdrop of the Anglo-Boer war of the previous century, this new production features award-winning actors Gontse Ntshegang and Andre Lotter.

In this new version of the play, a woman of African descent is found on a farm with the dead bodies of a Boer farmer, his wife and children. The British soldier who guards this strange parrot woman reveals an even more painful and touching truth surrounding this mysterious and “mad” woman’s relationship with the farmer, his wife and children.

Finest of the Fest winners

Baxter Theatre Centre, Cape Town

Date: September 3 - 17.

Back to Ashes cast. Picture: Imameleng Masitha

Two powerful and exciting productions, "Hostel Lights" and "Back to Ashes", will showcase as part of the Baxter Theatre “Finest of the Fest” winners from September 3 - 17.

“The two productions were selected as the best to emerge from the13th annual Zabalaza Theatre Festival which was held in April, for their powerful themes and excellence in script writing, performances, direction and the overall presentation,” said Mdu Kweyama, artistic director of the festival.

“The themes that they cover are those that audiences can resonate with and, sadly in many instances, is a daily reality for many South Africans. ‘Hostel Lights’ speaks to loyalty and friendship, while ‘Back to Ashes’ addresses the ever-relevant topic of gender-based violence.”