He was one of the most loathed characters on South African television, a villain with a capital “V” who raped his girlfriend when she refused to marry him. Little wonder fans of Mzansi Magic’s The Queen were shocked and appalled by Thabiso, the soccer star with a big ego.
But don’t make the mistake of thinking Joe Kazadi is anything like the jerk he played on TV. In fact, he couldn’t be more different. He’s a devout Christian and a family man who has deep respect for women.
We meet with the 28-year-old in the Joburg home he shares with his girlfriend (who he prefers not to name to protect her privacy) and their now five-month- old daughter, Omotola Zizipho Kazadi. The new father shared a sweet snap of his baby girl in his arms on Instagram on Valentine’s Day, cutely captioning the post “My Valentine”.
“I know people have their beliefs about sharing pictures of their baby before a certain time, but I don’t share those beliefs. I’m a Christian and I believe God is watching over my daughter,” he says.
After posing for a few solo pictures Joe leaves and re-emerges with little Omotola, who is the cutest little thing. Fast asleep in her daddy’s arms, she seems unaffected by the noise around her or the flash from the camera.
“She’s not a troublesome child, most of the time she’s asleep – she hardly even cries,” Joe says about his tiny princess.
“When she wakes up at night I get up to change her nappy or just hold her. I’ve never felt this kind of joy. I’m even more determined to make a success of my life so she can live a good and happy life.”
Having a daughter had made him even more determined to use his role in The Queen to raise awareness about the horror of rape and the importance of consent.
“Men can’t go around thinking they own women’s bodies,” he says. “It’s simply unacceptable.”
This was Joe’s third TV job and undoubtedly his biggest. His first gig was a small role as Black Mamba on SABC1’s Intersexions, then he played Nkunzi’s ruthless boss, gangster Phillipe, on Uzalo.
“Most times people would stop me and tell me what a good job I was doing and so forth, and it was very humbling each time, you know. But others would call me a monster ‘for what you did to Goodness Mabuza’ – but honestly, that was also quite humbling because it means my portrayal of Thabiso was believable.”
He’s glad to have been part of such an educational storyline, he says.
“People don’t understand consent. They don’t get that you can’t touch a woman without her permission, whether she’s your wife, girlfriend or sex partner. If she says no, it’s no, period.”
The only thing he has in common with Thabiso is playing soccer, he adds.
Before his acting career kicked off Joe was a footballer in Durban and “a very good one, if I might add”, he says with a chuckle. “I was the top scorer for the Stella Football Club. And I think my soccer background is what helped me with playing the role of Thabiso.”
He hasn’t had an easy life, Joe tells us, which is why he appreciates just how fortunate he is right now.
When he was just 10 years old, his mom, Esther Mbuyi, moved them from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to South Africa where they became refugees. “It was a rough time in the DRC, there was war and my mother didn’t want me to become a child soldier, so she fled with me.
At the time I was a very young boy and I didn’t understand why she did what she did. “I thought it was unfair of her to just uproot our lives – what about my life there, and my friends? But I’m so grateful when I look at it in hindsight.”
Adjusting to life in Durban wasn’t easy and he faced a lot of discrimination.
“Kids would make fun of me and call me names. It was bad. I quickly realized I had to learn isiZulu to survive, so I did. “Besides, when you live with Zulu people in their province, you have no choice but to learn their language because they won’t easily accommodate you. They teach you to be tough!”
He dropped out of school early to help his unemployed mom and found a job as a waiter at a restaurant. But he knew he wanted more out of life and enrolled for a culinary arts course and paid for it with the money he got from his waiter gig.
“I passed my course – so I can actually cook!” he says with a laugh. It was while he was working at a restaurant that he was discovered. A customer told him with his good looks he should consider acting or modelling.
He was introduced to Ice Model Management and moved to Joburg in 2011.
“Even then things weren’t very smooth. At some point I was homeless and would walk long distances for castings and interviews. Sleeping on the street and not knowing where my next meal would come from sort of motivated me to work even harder,” he says.
Before long Joe got small roles on TV commercials before graduating to the big leagues.
“Now when I look back, I’m grateful for everything I went through,” he says.
“It all prepared me for what I’ve achieved so far and what I’m yet to achieve. I mean, imagine if I wasn’t bullied for not knowing how to speak isiZulu – I wouldn’t have learned the language. And I wouldn’t have played the role of Thabiso.”