Gumede goes back to stage roots
Best known for his role as Mandla Ndlovu in Mzansi Magic’s popular telenovela-turned-soap-opera Isibaya, Bongani Gumede has taken a role in the Athol Fugard play Nongogo.
And although this might be some of his fans’ first exposure to his theatre work, the star says he trained as a stage performer.
“I actually did all my training in theatre and have been working in that space throughout, working with the likes of Gcina Mhlope, among many others.”
The skills he acquired on stage made it easier for him to work in television, on which he has featured in shows such as The Lab (2006) and e.tv’s eKasi: Our Stories.
His role in Nongogo makes Gumede feel he has gone back where it all began.
“Working with all my colleagues has been amazing thus far.
“I have in the past worked with Vusi Kunene and Peter Mashigo, but it has been my first time working with Zikhona Sodlaka and Zenzo Ngcobo and all that has been an experience.
“I feel like James Ngcobo (the director) took us from our different spaces and brought us together, then took his time in casting us because he knew who he wanted for which character.
“We are a connected team and it is exciting working with them,” he adds.
Gumede’s character in the play, Patrick, is a typical township man who has succumbed to the harsh discrimination of apartheid during the 1950s.
Patrick lives in poverty, can’t find a job to support his family, and turns to drinking.
His story forms part of the bigger narrative that surrounds Queenie (played by Sodlaka), a successful shebeen queen, who once sold her body for money.
Queenie’s heart is with Johnny (Zenzo Ngqobe) but other men, like Blackie (Mashigo) and Sam (Kunene), don’t seem to approve.
The word “nongogo” referred to a woman who sold her body for only 25c, called ingogo in 1950s township slang.
This is a story of black people caught up in poverty during the apartheid days.
Gumede says most of the roles he has played over the years have never really been far off the reality he has lived and that has formed part of his life.
When he was growing up, his pastor father owned taxis and, as soon as he could count, he started working as a conductor and gained knowledge of that industry.
“This play is important as it reflects society, mirroring what happens and what ordinary people go through,” says Gumede.
“It offers entertainment first but also aims to educate. Surely, through all the characters, people will find a bit of themselves. Women will find themselves in Queenie, men will see a bit of themselves in the male characters.”
Nongogo is at the Market Theatre until the July 15.