Hungani Ndlovu: Life begins at 30

From Romeo Medupe in Scandal! to Thabo Maputla in Skeem Saam, the actor has brought memorable TV characters to life

Nombuso Kumalo Content Producer
Multi-talented actor and dancer Hungani Ndlovu.
Multi-talented actor and dancer Hungani Ndlovu.
Image: Aart Verrips

“My gosh, I’m turning 30! Ndi ne-stress!” Hungani Ndlovu muses, enlivened by the thought of throwing a street party to ring in the momentous occasion.

Grass carpets the barely visible paved pathway leading to the double-storey sliding doors of the Glow Studio on Oxford Road, Rivieria.

Sitting under the oak tree and looking out on the well-groomed garden, Ndlovu admires the imposing studio.  “Our home is going to be like this soon,” he says — he and actress wife Stephanie Ndlovu (née Sandows) are busy renovating a 45-year-old property. “It’s my wife’s idea... If it were up to me, we would build from scratch.”

The multi-hyphenate star — he’s a dancer, actor, DJ, and digital-content creator — admits that being “born free” has come with privileges his parents were not afforded. “My life was very blessed, privileged, and filled with opportunities, but not without hardships,” he tells me. “What’s more interesting is seeing how my parents live now, based on their experiences before 1994 — it shows how people were conditioned during that period.”   

Ndlovu credits watching his father manoeuvre in the business world with giving him the confidence to pioneer his own path.  “I realised that acting only is not that lucrative,” he says. “Instead of complaining, I looked for opportunities in the world of entertainment and creation. In my quest not to shift industries and professions, I found myself doing different stuff that I enjoyed and that formed part of my being an entertainer.”   

Although Ndlovu has reason to pop some champagne in honour of his accomplishments thus far, he admits that he has not been immune to the actor’s muselet of humble beginnings.

Image: Aart Verrips

His big breakthrough came in 2016 in the form of Scandal!, portraying a villain with a good heart, Romeo Medupe.  “I had been in the industry for five years. Landing that role was the reassurance I needed — before then I was hustling, doing this and that, but nothing was paying off,” Ndlovu remembers. “Then the Romeo moment happened. I told myself that I needed to solidify myself in this space, so when I moved on, no one could question my capabilities when it came to being a performer.”  

Ndlovu's newfound fame elevated his popularity with viewers, altering his once-normal life.

“Navigating how I engaged with strangers who thought they knew me was hard. At first, I wouldn't pay people attention when they called me Romeo, until Stephanie called me out and told me not to be rude,” he says.  Although he has since left the show, Ndlovu will forever be Romeo, everywhere he goes, even though his character was killed off.

Ndlovu met Stephanie on the set of Scandal!. Serving as casting director, she cast him as Romeo. He got an open invitation to sit with her during the production lunch break, and the pair have been at each other’s side ever since.

“Every lunch after that I would sit next to her. It was then that I realised how amazing she was,” he says. “The journey to being husband and wife was filled with ups and downs. Did we know what we were stepping into? Not really, but all I know is that she will be by my side.”

Image: Aart Verrips

Their popular YouTube channel has garnered over 340 000 followers. The Ndlovu’s Uncut documents their journey in marriage, parenthood, and life through short skits and interactive live chats. The couple have a beautiful daughter from their union. 

“At first, I thought I wasn’t doing enough as a father,” he says. “What does it mean to be a father? That was my biggest question. Being someone from the acting world, I would research my characters, but when it came to fatherhood, I couldn't find any information on it. It was only by the time our daughter was six months that I realised that I was doing it and it’s enough.”

Ndlovu’s acting chops landed him another big role last year as Thabo “T’Bose” Maputla on SABC1’s Skeem Saam. He had big shoes to fill, as he replaced the beloved Cornet Mamabolo, who had played the fan-favourite role since the show’s inception in 2011. 

“Romeo was my last big TV character and I had to make sure that they were not trying to have a Romeo through T’Bose. Through this role, I can show a different side of me as an actor,” he says. “The idea of a recast is tricky, as people grow attached to the actor who played that role. Even now, I'm sure that they call him [Mamabolo] T’Bose.

“At first, I didn’t know if I could pull it off. You’re taking over a role that has been filled by an individual for a decade. He is left-handed and I’m right, and his tone of voice and Sepedi pronunciation were all things that I would need to practise for some time because in my mind I thought they were looking for someone to replace him in a way that’s still the same person.”  Almost a year later, Ndlovu is still standing and has breathed new life into T’Bose.

Image: Aart Verrips