Nathaniel “Nat” Ramabulana’s ability to master foreign accents has earned him a number of unique roles as a South African actor. A notable example was the character of William, a Congolese-born doctor who fell in love with a local girl, Tshidi Khuse (Nokuthula Ledwaba) on Rhythm City.
The role was introduced in 2012 and although it was short-lived, it became one of the best-loved in the popular e.tv series.
William made viewers sharply aware of the sensitive matter of xenophobia in a way that no other television character has achieved.
They couldn’t help but empathise with this man whose medical skills were a huge benefit for the community but who unfortunately was persecuted for falling in love.
Although at the time the multilingual actor had already featured in a number of local dramas, the William role introduced Ramabulana to a broader viewership and boosted his professional profile as one of the country’s recognisable acting talents.
Ramabulana’s latest role in Muvhango as Tendamudzimu, the new mayor of Thathe, could be described as a homecoming of sorts. Although Ramabulana was born in Soweto, he also lived in Venda, Limpopo. Linguistically the character of Tendamudzimu is familiar territory for him.
Venda is his mother tongue and he shares his family name with an ancient Venda king, Mphephu Ramabulana.
However, in his capacity as Tendamudzimu he must reckon with Azwindini Mukwevho (Gabriel Temudzani), the long-standing chief of Thathe.
It’s a known fact that the chief is a philandering polygamist, but few could have suspected that he would be involved in a romantic affair with the mayor’s wife, Livhuwani (Anzani Tshivhase).
And as if that’s not bad enough, it’s none other than the ousted mayor, Mulalo (Sydney Ramakuela) who is privy to this potentially explosive secret.
He has known this scandal for a while but has been playing his cards closer to his chest - waiting for the right time to use the affair as a bargaining chip.
This week he was ready to gleefully disclose the sordid details to the mayor as he laughed in his nemesis’ face. Tendamudzimu must also face the possibility that the daughter that he had idolised so much since her birth may be Chief Azwindini’s love child with his wife.
It’s a mess and the mayor is clearly on a warpath. It’s no longer a question of when he will strike but which weapons he will use to attack the womanising chief.
Ramabulana’s first professional production was Athol Fugard’s Master Harold and The Boys. He won a Naledi Award for best supporting actor for his part as Sam, a role that was originally made famous by John Kani and earned the play a Tony Award on Broadway in 1975.
A University of the Witwatersrand graduate in dramatic arts, in 2011 Ramabulana starred with Kani’s son, Atandwa Kani in his play, Hayani at Wits Theatre.
The play is based on the actors’ personal experiences and challenges ethnic stereotypes. He first caught the attention of TV viewers in Askies, the 2009 comedy series where he acted as Blessing. Other roles followed on M-Net’s The Wild and SABC’s Isidingo.
Muvhango airs weekdays on SABC2 at 9pm.