If you thought you had witnessed the full gamut of Winnie Ntshaba’s prowess as an actress, think again. But her breakthrough role as Khethiwe Buthelezi in SABC1’s flagship soapie, Generations certainly magnified her versatility.
Although it was another manic day on set, Ntshaba, still as effervescent and wonderfully loquacious as I remember, stole a few minutes away from the camera to chat about her role as MaMngadi in Mzansi Magic’s new drama, The Herd.
What is interesting about this character?
She’s a dutiful mother to three children - Muzi (Sparky Xulu), Nkosana (Paballo Mavundla) and Dumazile (Cindy Mahlangu). Her affluent businessman husband, Bhekisizwe Mthethwa is played by the inimitable Sello Maake Ka Ncube. But she has a dark secret - she’s a witch.
Ntshaba quickly caught me up on what’s been keeping her busy, aside from the second upcoming Royalty Soapie Awards in August.
She says: “I’m super excited, you don’t understand. I made a decision at the beginning of the year that I need to give acting my full attention. Sometimes my agent would say go here and I wouldn’t go. I would focus on other things that I was doing.
“Then I realised, no man, I miss it. It’s like a calling this thing. I would sit down and watch these shows and just miss being a part of it. And I got the perfect, perfect role.”
Of course, fans have enjoyed her in smaller parts in The Road, MTV Shuga, Isibaya and Sokhulu & Partners.
To contextualise the darkness of her character, think along the lines of the supernatural havoc wreaked by S’cotho (Zikhona Zodlaka) in Igazi.
On slipping into the skin of MaMngadi, Ntshaba says, “Khethiwe had many layers. She came in as a maid. She was a model. She started her own badge business. She killed people, had an abortion, she did many things but she was never this woman. This woman is dangerous because she is living a double life. The only person that knows she is a witch is her husband. It’s how they obtained their wealth.”
Their back-story, which will come to light as the series gains momentum, explains how their union was born out of darkness. This truth is even kept from their children.
Even more ravishing in her early forties, the actress adds: “The children have got no idea. When she is at the hut, where she practices the sacrifices, there are two other ladies with her. Back at home, she returns to being the perfect wife and mother.”
As for getting to work with Maake Ka Ncube, who left Generations long before she arrived, Ntshaba says, “I adore him. He will feed you as an artist and you will have no choice but to give back. So it is like this give and take. In fact, everyone on the show, the level of professionalism and talent is amazing. Two of the kids are new in the industry but they are throwing themselves in there and you can’t even tell that they are starting out.”
In case you are wondering, Ntshaba bagged this role after going for an audition.
She recalls, “It’s wonderful, as an actor, when people know your work and trust you. People have watched Khethiwe going through all these phases in her life and, in doing so, knew what I could do. That is what’s most beautiful for me.”
The Herd offers a few moral conundrums, especially when it comes to the quest for power and wealth and what people are willing to sacrifice for it, including love.
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In the meantime, she touched on an exciting programme where they are going to go into deep rural KwaZulu-Natal to expose children to the opportunities the industry can offer them, not from just an acting perspective, but also as a creative.
She adds: “On the night of the Royalty Soapie Awards, you will find, beyond the glitz and glamour, we are more.”
Aside from giving back, she notes: “This is my year of acting.”
And so she returns to her calling in a role unlike any we have ever seen her in before.
* The Herd airs tonight on Mzansi Magic (DStv Channel 161) at 8pm.