Multitalented Siyasanga Papu shines in many fields
Actor also sings, sketches and helps young convicts
You may mistake her to be as sweet and gullible as her role of Pretty on Mzansi Magic’s hit telenovela Gomora but Siyasanga Papu is no ways a beauty without brains. She's far more than meets the eye, with various community initiatives under her belt.
One of Papu's missions is to help young convicts find their feet once they leave prison.
Since assuming the character of Pretty on the 7.30pm weekly television slot, Papu has become a familiar face on the small screen.
However, what many aren’t aware of is that her acting career spans well over 10 years, with credits in other series such as Hillside, Saints and Sinners, Rhythm City, Isibaya and The Herd.
However, before TV, Papu acted in theatre and toured nationally and internationally with different stage productions.
“I’ve got a small NPO (nonprofit organisation) that I have been running since 2018 and I’ve been doing prison projects with juveniles at Baviaanspoort Prison (northeast of Pretoria) where a group of people I know who have been in the industry for years come and impart their skills and knowledge to the boys. We facilitate these workshops with them for about three months and it culminates in a point where they showcase what they’ve learnt.
“I really want to see this initiative grow... There are a lot of young people who want to get into the entertainment industry but sometimes don’t know how to enter such a sphere.
“Sometimes when people watch us, they think our lives are glamorous because they see us on TV or on Instagram but what they don’t know is that we wake up at 5am and come back home very late at night, that’s the sacrifice we make for such a profession.”
Acting and helping others are not the only things the 35-year-old from Pretoria West is good at. She’s also a vocalist for a six-piece band called Molo. And to vouch for her vocal ability, she holds two Naledi nominations for her roles played in theatre musicals.
She regards herself as an Afro-soul/pop singer who often covers songs by Adele, Miriam Makeba, Whitney Houston and Thandiswa Mazwai.
“Music was my first love, when I was 16 and ambitious enough to go to Coca-Cola Pop Stars to audition, I thought I could become a star but later was told I was underage and couldn’t go through to theatre week. But years later I decided to add my singing into musicals.”
While she realised her singing career wasn’t panning out how she had anticipated, Papu decided to audition for a play at the State Theatre in Pretoria which she nailed, securing her first acting job a month after finishing her matric.
“I was lucky enough to fall into the hands of Paul Grootboom and Presley Kali who honed my acting and skill, as young as I was with no acting background.”
Although her character Pretty is known to take the backseat when it comes to hard-hitting situations, Papu revealed that viewers will get to see a more “spicy” and “gutsy side” that they’ve never seen before.
“People are going to be very surprised that's all I can say. Another thing I can add is that it’s so wonderful that I get to work with the likes of Mam’Connie Chiume (Sonto, her mother on Gomora), Katlego Danke (her sister Nthatisi on the show) and Khaya Mthembu who plays Sbonga and my husband in the show.
“I believe it takes a very strong actor to act out such a role of Sbonga who is often undermined in society, and Khaya does it so effortlessly. He and I actually hit it off the first day we met. We had to read our script and without knowing each other we managed to establish pure chemistry.
FACT FILE: SIYASANDA PAPU
Favourite food: Lamb shank with mash
Favourite actor: Viola Davis
Favourite TV show: Survivor
Favourite musician: Miriam Makeba
Favourite song: Mbube
Favourite emoji: 🥳
"We’d always talk to each other and find out where he thinks our characters are in a specific storyline, whether they are fighting or in love… Khaya is such a great person to act alongside.
“I also have a great friendship with Katlego; she’s such a marvel. Working with her is so much fun. She’s so open and willing to help out whenever you need footing in terms of the scenes the storyline has taken,” Papu said on the kind of sisterhood she and Danke have.
In high school, Papu always had a passion for sketching, she thought she’d one day become a sketch artist. But after progressing as an actor and singer still in her teens, drawing fell by the wayside because of her busy schedule.
"I was always that kid in class who’d always draw all the pictures of the animals featured in the biology class. Sketching used to be something I dearly loved, maybe I’ll go back to it one day,” Papu said.