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How Wiseman Mncube became Mandoza

The actor spills all the deets about portraying the kwaito icon in the biopic Nkalakatha: The Life of Mandoza

Nombuso Kumalo Content Producer
Wiseman Mncube takes on the role of late kwaito star Mandoza in BET biopic.
Wiseman Mncube takes on the role of late kwaito star Mandoza in BET biopic.
Image: Supplied.

The final episode of BET’s six-part series Nkalakatha: The Life of Mandoza will air tonight.

Taking on the role of late kwaito star Mandoza was no small feat for Wiseman Mncube, beloved for his TV roles in Shaka iLembe, Uzalo, The Wife, and eHostela. The leading man reflects on bringing his most challenging role yet to life.   

What was the energy and emotion on set?    

The set was a safe and welcoming space. Even though there were ups and downs as we had a tight timeframe in which to shoot, we all pulled through and worked well together. We understood why we were there. When I first stepped on set, I was nervous. It was only once we started filming that I could focus on narrating the story as an actor while being respectful in the role.  

What discovery did you make about him?  

I grew up following his music and seeing him as this big icon and legend. We also saw ourselves as nkalakatha in the era of Nkalakatha. So, when I was researching him, I found out that he was a loving and praying person.

He was a people’s person. He cared for his family — his mom, kids, and wife — and Chiskop (kwaito group). Although he was the only one from the group who made it as a solo act, he never forgot them. He would go back to Zola in Soweto and hang out with them or take them to his home in Randburg.  

What was your interaction with Tumelo, his second son, on set?  

I would see his children, particularly Tumelo [was] so hands-on (Tokollo was overseas). Tumelo was with the production. If I had to perform a certain scene and he was around he would call me aside and share with me how his father would have done it.

He was so proud of the production and aspired that his father’s story be narrated as an homage to him. Tumelo showed me the kind of father that Mandoza was. They [Tumelo and Tokollo] carry his legacy in their hearts and love him. Even through the bad press and his drama in the tabloids, he never forgot his family.  

Mandoza’s wife Mpho also played a prominent role on set — what was that like?  

The support from the family was amazing, especially from his wife Mpho, from the first day until today. She often checks in on me and asks me about my feelings about the show since it’s aired.

Image: Supplied.

What was the most difficult scene to shoot?  

The wedding scene, and towards the end of his life, when the cancer caused him to go blind. It was so heavy. I could sense something was happening; it was so emotional that I couldn’t stop crying, even though I didn’t know why I was crying. I would step off set to gather myself for about 30 minutes, but there was this distinct heavy and powerful presence on set.

I knew it was him; even his actual manager, who was also on set, broke down in tears and told me that the way I was crying and re-enacting the moment was as though it was him. He had been present on that day when Mandoza had held his hand because he was blind. In that scene I didn’t want to be creative, I wanted to play out the scene the way it happened. It was a heavy day on set. It felt as though his spirit was there embracing and thanking us for this work.    

You also got to wear his clothing in the show. Take us through that.  

On the first day of shooting, I was in character, wearing his clothes. I ran into Mpho in the kitchen, where we were shooting the scene. As I made my way to greet her, she saw me, screamed, dropped what she had in her hands, and cried. I only then remembered that I was wearing his clothes and at that moment it had all come back to her.

It was such an emotional journey for them and me because there were so many emotive scenes in which we could feel his presence.  

Image: Supplied.

How did you prepare for the role?  

All the time I would be reminded that he was left-handed, as I’m right-handed. Other than that, I went with the flow, trusting myself and just having fun, you know. I told myself I didn’t want to think too much about him, as I’d end up mimicking him. I’m here to tell his story.

I would just have fun and try to understand his character; people would share with me the kind of person he was and I would watch videos of his performances. Whenever he jumped on stage you could tell his passion for his craft.

He was powerful and spiritually driven and you could tell that he would lose himself when he was performing. His voice… is deeper than mine, [but] I used my own voice. I told myself to just take the script, tell the beautiful story, and have fun, but in a respectful and honourable way.  

Lorraine Moropa played Mandoza’s wife. What was it like working with her?  

It was very nice. It was my first time meeting and working with her. I always say that we shouldn’t ignore spiritual intuition, we can all be beautiful actors; however, if our spirits clash, there won’t be any connection and we will fall out.

We met with Lorraine at the audition call-back and I remarked to the casting director — I was already cast as Mandoza — that she was amazing, and they agreed with me. We understood each other.     

What do you believe made Mandoza i’nkalakatha?  

His belief. When you listen closely to his lyrics, from Nkalakatha to Respect Life, they reflect his views on life. In scenes in the biopic, he would sit down with his crew and ask why, as Black people, we see ourselves as lesser than others. He would often share with them how he had great belief in himself, that he would succeed and move out of the township.

He had an optimistic outlook on life and would share that with everyone… He believed in his talent, in himself, and that people would celebrate him, and that’s what happened. When I stayed at his home in Zola for two days, crowds of people would come to greet me with “Hey, Mandoza, Mandoza.”

Even young children who hadn’t been born in the era of Mandoza were chanting his name. That says to me that people from Zola still speak of him because of his legacy and what he stood for.  

You have crossed the 10-year mark in acting — what has been your greatest role thus far?  

Playing Mandoza and Zwide in Shaka iLembe.