She is the woman everyone loves to hate – Zodwa, the alcoholic mom of the darling Teddy in Gomora.
Even though she’s been cleaning up her act lately, she still leaves destruction wherever she goes and is known for her quirky one-liners that have viewers laughing for days.
Actress Sannah Mchunu (48) loves playing the loud-mothed, trouble-making mom on the popular Mzansi Magic telenovela.
Now she’s walked away with a Royalty Award for her work.
She scooped the outstanding supporting actress award for her role. This is her first award.
We look back at an interview we had with the star recently.
Zodwa’s lifestyle choices have made her lose her son after he was taken out of her care and put into a healthier environment with Melusi (Zolisa Xaluva) and Gladys (Thembi Seete), leaving Zodwa free to drown her sorrows in booze and embarrassing Teddy. She is not afraid to use violence to get her point across.
She sometimes gets into trouble at work for improvising her lines.
“I have a script like everyone else, but then I add gestures and slang to really make Zodwa come to life,” she says.
“That woman lives inside of me. I can feel it in my soul when I must add a bit of spice to my lines,” she says.
But it all comes naturally to her.
“Some of the things that happen once I get into character amaze me.”
Often the cast and crew break into laughter when Zodwa pulls some of her unexpected stunts on sets.
“The cameramen, directors, and everyone on sets laughs at some of Zodwa’s antics. But I must always keep a straight face. We all know of a Zodwa in the township."
Sannah is grateful that directors and producers allow her to add some creativity to the script. “You know sometimes directors and writers get offended when you add to the script. But when you feel the character as much as I feel Zodwa sometimes you end up adding things to enhance the role. And I am grateful to be allowed the opportunity to do so at times.”
Sannah loves how Zodwa will fight to be a mother despite her flaws.
“She is a crazy drunk, I agree, but she loves her son unconditionally,” and she can relate in her personal experiences.
Sannah says Zodwa reminds her of her own love for her children.
“I am not an alcoholic like her, but we are very similar,” she adds.
“I don’t live with my kids, they live with their father in Florida, and I live in Soweto,” she says.
“Being away from them and having to arrange visits helps me to relate it to what Zodwa feels when she is away from her child,” she says.
Eight years ago, Sana and her taxi-owner husband separated due to verbal and physical abuse. And she was forced to leave her children behind and move back home to Soweto with her younger sister Ntombizodwa Kobese (44) at her family home.
“I had to go back home to Sgodiphola in Soweto. I had nothing to offer my children. He had the money and all I knew was to give birth and stay home,” she says.
“I had no Grade 12, no schooling, no work experience, and all I did was mother my children and be a good wife,” she says.
“When the relationship because too abusive, my children advised me to leave and go back home. That was the best decision of my life,” she says.
“But it meant sacrificing my children, so they have a good life. It meant sacrificing being a ‘madam’ and living a life of luxury. My husband was well off and he never thought I would ever leave him because I had nothing and I needed him,” she says.
“So I relate to needing my children next to me,” she says.
Her husband lived with their seven children Thokozai (31), a taxi business owner, Simphiwe (28) a banker at Capitec, Sbusiso (26) a Chartered Accountant, Busisiwe (25) and Economist, Themba (19) a rugby player and her 13-year-old twins Ayanonga and Abongile and they would visit her in Soweto.
“I left with nothing but a nightgown and pant,” she says.
Although leaving was a difficult decision, it was the best she could have ever made.
“Sometimes you need to walk away from situations that do not serve you and learn to start over again,” she says.
“Look at me now, making the country laugh, learn and telling amazing stories.”
Conquering tough times
When she first moved back to Soweto things were tough.
“I was shamed for coming back home and leaving my rich husband. People would gossip about me in the neighborhood and I was just called a ‘return soldier',” she says. But Sannah did not give up. She attended every audition that called. She got very few roles.
“I felt like my time was almost up and I was getting old. But I still tried my best,” she says.
In 2016, she landed the role of Nomarashiya on Muvhago, but that was only for three months. Then she played a few small roles on Mzansi Magic Kasi Stories. “We shot Kasi stories for three or four days. You got your money and go back to queuing up for auditions. But I was good at saving up and I managed to extend my late parents’ home,” she says.
“I built some back rooms at home, fixed the house, and built a shower. Things I would have never done, had I stayed in that abusive marriage,” she says.
“Even my neighbours seemed proud and said my parents must be rejoicing in their graves,” she says.
This went on until she auditioned for the role of Zodwa.
“I was eyeing another character on Gomora, but I was disappointed when I didn’t fit the part. But luckily, I ended up getting called to appear a few times as Zodwa and I nailed it,” she says.
“I was not happy that it was a small role for a short time, but I gave it my all and the directors were impressed,” she says.
“This role really changed my life completely,” she says. “I am loved and appreciated everywhere I go and that helped to boost my confidence. I am a hero now in the township,” she says. “I stopped being a baby-making example. I was being shamed for leaving an abusive marriage. But now I can take care of my kids and my family and still become a respected actress,” she says.
“It’s been a long journey, but I am grateful for a how far I have come,” she says
Most importantly for Sannah, her kids are proud of her new-found independence.
“They have supported me through everything. They have seen me at my worst and they also get to see me at my best,” she says.
Five years ago, Sannah says she knew nothing about acting.
But with the help of friends like singer Winnie Khumalo, she learned the ropes quickly. “I will forever be grateful to Winnie for taking me with her to auditions and allowing me to try my luck. Who would have thought that acting would be my passion? That I would call myself an actress. All I did was live my life for my husband. Ja ne, we live and learn."