Sophie Ndaba breaks the mould to showcase talent

Sophie Ndaba as head nurse Palesa in prison drama Lockdown./Supplied
Sophie Ndaba as head nurse Palesa in prison drama Lockdown./Supplied

It took Sophie Ndaba going from glamour to grit on screen to get rid of Queen Moroka, a process that led Ndaba to get her groove back.

Ndaba completely disappears into the image of her demented character Palesa in prison drama Lockdown currently airing on Mzansi Magic.

With a deep scar on her face, minimal makeup and no fancy hair, Ndaba's appearance in the show is spine-chilling - and that is the point.

Her dramatic physical make-under reminds me of my favourite line from the biopic Rocketman in which Reginald Dwight transforms into his stage name Elton John: "You gotta kill the person you were born to be to become the person you want to be."

In order to evolve into a new era it was vital that Ndaba killed the image of Queen Moroka - the fabulous, off-kilter and dolled-up character that made her showbiz royalty for 28 years.

Ndaba says the many years of being typecast as comic relief and not being offered roles that showcase her acting range were the lowest of her illustrious career. "[My lowest career moment] was not being able to play roles I have wanted to play and not being given a chance to play because everyone saw Queen. Producers and writers could not see me play anything else. It was sad."

Ndaba not only undergoes a physical transformation playing the deranged head nurse working at a mental institution. But she shows off her dramatic acting chops and the result has been emotionally poignant for viewers and naysayers who have praised her performance.

"Queen was 'darling this and that'. Palesa is on another level and she has history," she says. "Palesa represents a lot of broken women in SA. It's an authentic role - a role worth playing. Most women are scarred inside and for Palesa she has both the inside and outside scars. The scar on her face makes her very uncomfortable, vulnerable and less confident.

One unforgettable scene is in episode 2 when she looks at herself in the mirror - removing her wig and makeup - as she wails in shame.

"It took me time and I literally requested the floor crew to give me a moment in silence.

"I had to find her pain; the director allowed that moment and after I dug deep she came out."

Ndaba knows pain well, especially in the past two years as she has been a victim of social media bullying.

She endured public humiliation after her sudden weight loss as a result of type 2 diabetes. But being the formidable figure that she is, Ndaba has emerged stronger than ever.

"Oh gosh, talking about cyber bullying is not nice and it will never be because these are my fellow South African sisters and brothers out there," Ndaba says.

"It really broke my heart when they didn't understand what I was going through. I was dealing with so many things ranging from acceptance, stress and depression.

"Then we added SA to my list of attackers. Oh Lord, I just couldn't believe it. What happened to ubuntu nje? Kicking a horse when it's down and you're supposed to be a sister or brother.

"Being in the public eye is one thing. People thinking they own you enough to say whatever and get away with it - it was deep."

But the support of her family that includes her businessman husband Max Lichaba got her through it.

"I have a family to fight for. My kids are amazing. They took care of me in my lowest moments - prayed and fasted for me.

"My young step kids, the hugs and love they give to me it's heavenly. I'm blessed to be called mom by 12 kids.

"Motherhood is worth every hour and minute. During Covid-19 at home I have bonded more with them."

In November, Ndaba and Lichaba celebrated their second wedding anniversary.

"Married life is hectic. It's a project that one must never be too comfortable with and forget to work on it each day.

"As a career-driven couple with kids you have your family and yourselves to think of. But it's a blessing never to be taken for granted. I love marriage. I'm working on it as best as I can."

Ndaba's first taste of fame came as a young model from Soweto in TV show Class of '92. Before long she was cast in Generations and went on to score other acting gigs. ". I remembered how in our Soweto family home I was a pregnant teenager and asked my late mother Joyce to trust me with her pension money - and that I would multiply it and be their breadwinner. It was amazing that she took in my daughter. I knocked on agencies doors and I made her proud."

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