SELLO MAAKE KA-NCUBE

Sello Maake Ka Ncube
BY Mandi ‘Poefficient’ Vundla |
When I say Ntate Sello, reverence slips off my tongue, and I shake his hand like a man whose name and existence is a compliment to the South African Theatre, Film and Television industry.

Wealth is something you earn by listening to him speak on the roof top of a 4 Star Reef Hotel. Down 58 Anderson Street, where I watch him master the art of taming his fans without uttering a sound. He says the trick is to always make eye-contact with the group leader.

“When you see a crowd approaching, identify the ring leader. When you lock eyes with her you will see her recede and the rest of the gang will take a step back. You have to command your space.”

His voice is firm and unshakable, words fall easy from his mouth. He is a talker, smooth with charm chiseled into his body. He walks through the entrance of the Elevate roof top with the weight of a man carrying over 30 years of industry experience on his broad shoulders. Arriving a little earlier than expected, he eases into the photo-shoot with his signature pose; head slightly bowed and fingers resting on his forehead.

His sense of humor litters the room and I can’t help but fetch my laugh from the core of my stomach every chance I get when he shares flash backs of growing up in the township.

“Home was alright; I went to school; I played soccer and I did my daily chores. At 15years, well… Puppy love was also in the picture; I started fancying girls… Chuckles”

And somewhere between school and play and learning how to court, Sello watched his first play: How Long by The Father of Black Theatre; Gibson Kente. Because he was such a show off, Maake would demonstrate the scenes from Kente’s play to his cousin, who picked up on his talent and wrote him into an amateur play he was working on with his friends. 41 years later and that teenage boy has matured into South Africa’s most treasured gem.

At 18 the self-assured actor wrote a two man play centered on prison life; influenced by John Kani’s: The Island and Survival by Workshop 71. When his co-actor chickened out of performing the play on the eve of a festival debut, worried about the audience response, because at that time, only musical plays were popular on circuit. Maake Ka-Ncube daringly condensed the play and performed it as a one-hander.

“To my luck it was voted the best play at the festival. It’s nice to be young but I WOULDN’T DARE DO THAT NOW!”

Off-course not… Now, his on screen handling scripts by other writers. Portraying his life-long dream role of a Gay Man in The Queen on Mzansi Magic. A character he would have loved to have played in his youth. Listening to him speak about Kgositsile is like watching a kid hold his first toy car. His face lights up just before he delves into the significance of representing gay men on Television.

“If I played this character much earlier, maybe it would have contributed something into the landscape
of understanding homosexuality sooner. There are also gay men that are my age and I hope people come to understand that homosexuality is a way of life. It’s in the DNA of a person. I find the negative reaction towards it very disturbing.”

Ntate Sello Maake’ Ka Ncube’s politics go beyond accepting the role of a gay man on television to demystify homosexuality, he confirms that in the past, he went on a hunger strike to protest against the poor representation of local content on South African Radio and T.V. He says he owes the motivation to the young lady who instigated the protest. Torn by seeing someone young enough to be his daughter fight a battle his generation should have won, he decided to join her.

“Now we’re seeing the repetition of that struggle through #FeesMustFall. The decolonization of universities is a sad indictment on us, the parents. We should say to our children: ’Go to school, we will take care of the fight”

Maake’s contribution towards decolonizing the mind of the African Actor lies in opening The Sello Maake Ka-Ncube Training Academy, which he says will focus on training the actor to be a multi-lingual entity. The academy is also a way of combating University modules that impoverish black actors culturally. Depriving them of the ability to narrate their black life experiences in their mother tongue. Using English as a medium for teaching acting limits the black actor’s ability to portray his life experience in a language that he lives in.

Hearing Sello say:
“When black students get into the lecture room, they close their black life experience and go in there to be reinvented. You will never see an English; German; Afrikaans or Italian Actor being trained without their language so why must we succumb to such?”

The hairs on my skin are raised like dry grass and I imagine a bon-fire in the middle of a field and an ethnic people, starved for identity listening to the folklore. Hearing Maake advise on how not to die in a lecture room, even when the system is strategically designed to kill you.

It is here that I say to self, this is not an interview, this is a lesson on History and the preservation of African culture through performing arts. This is Oral African Literature. We are half way through the story-telling session and I am intrigued and blown to pieces by Ntate Sellos thinking and politics, he holds African Culture the way people hold bibles to their chests.

I’m still holding his gaze when I ask him what books are on his shelf. I know i can’t count back the number of titles, actors and Playwrights we’ve gone through. He is photographic in memory and remembers the names of movies, directors and the pivotal experiences that have shaped him. He makes references to Gibson Kente and credits him for influencing his journey but the book that changed his thinking about acting was ‘Towards A Poor Theatre’ saying Jerzy Grotowski revolutionized method acting.

The father of five is actively involved in the lives of his children, he is most thankful for a chance at fatherhood and remain soft in the space that his late son has left in his heart. He speaks gently of the teachings he had passed on to his boy about marriage, commitment and children. Advising that he should plant his semen only where he intends to stay. Surprisingly enough, art wasn’t a source of healing for his loss. It was hearing his sons friends speak at the memorial on how disciplined his boy was about not having children with multiple partners.
“It was when i heard that, that I said to myself –I’ve done my job”

Making a living out of something that he loves is also another gift Maake is thankful for. After all… The industry aint for the faint hearted. So what do you do when you’re Sello Maake Ka-Ncube, you’re back from touring the world with the play: Woza Albert, its 1986 and you’re struggling to find work?

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“ I hired five movies by Jack Nicholson I watched them one after the other and when I was done, I realized -I hadn’t begun acting.”

It’s difficult to imagine that Maake could ever be down and out but after buying a book on auditioning, the lessons pumped life back into him. Now he knows better than to just regurgitate lines when delivering a script. He offers directors different interpretations of the character he is trying for.

He unintentionally auditioned for the role of Mufasa. He was passing by the Market Theatre where Lebo M and Duma Ka Ndlovu were running auditions for The Lion King’s Theatre adaptation. He greeted his contemporaries on his way in and jokingly said: “I should audition for you guys” and as he walked off, he sang ‘at the end of a rainbow, you will find a pot of gold’ I guess the song hit the spot because Lebo responded by saying: ‘you should actually come read for us.’ And so not only was he cast but he is also the first African to play the role of Mufasa in The Lion King. The veteran actor has played characters that are so for apart from each other. From Mandela to Archie Moroka to Kgosi.
He is the (2002) recipient of The Standard Bank Young Artist Award and has a Naledi award under his belt amongst other achievements.He has navigated the writings of Kente and Shakespeare and continues to
dazzle us on screen. Sello Maake Ka Ncube is a home grown Gem, a National Treasure.
I am truly made wealthier by being in his midst.

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