Xoli Zondi-Zamisa takes on mental illness in her new role on Imbewu

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Actress Xoli Zamisa-Zondi spoke to us about her new character and how society need to do better when it comes to understanding mental  disorders.
Actress Xoli Zamisa-Zondi spoke to us about her new character and how society need to do better when it comes to understanding mental disorders.

She burst onto Mzansi’s small screens in 2007 when she played the hilarious Winnie on SABC 1’s hit comedy show, Family Bonds.

Her acting prowess was highlighted when she portrayed Zodwa, the obsessive, deranged girlfriend in Generations – a character that left viewers in awe.

And now, Xoli Zondi-Zamisa has taken on another interesting role to show off her talent.

The star has joined e.tv drama, Imbewu as Violet – the estranged wife to Mazulu’s new love interest Menzi Vilakazi, played by Muzi Mthabela.

Read more| Phindile Gwala on her new fiery character on e.tv’s Imbewu: The Seed

Violet is in a mental health institution as a result of being charged with murder after she burnt down the house of a woman she suspected was sleeping with her husband.

And the timing is perfect, as October is Mental Health Awareness Month.

Drum catches up with the actress to find out more about her new character, motherhood, and who she'd want to be stranded on an island with.

Back on the small screen

It feels great to be back on television.

I was on Isipho last year, but after the lockdown I thought things would take longer to pick up, so it feels good to be back.


Being a part of Imbewu is amazing. Uyabona Imbewu, you see Imbewu.

The cast is really warm. It’s a group of genuine people. It’s so rare to find that in a production that’s been going on for a while. People often are territorial, but with this cast, they are warm, genuine and it is a really good team.

Playing a mentally ill character

My new character, Violet has a mental disorder. But she is different from my character as uZodwa. Mental illnesses and disorders are different and that is what people don’t quite understand.

Zodwa was mental, but you could only see that when she started talking. She would just get into it and you’d be like, no, this person is not okay and what she’s saying is out of line.

Violet has mental defiance (oppositional defiant disorder\ODD). She has fears, she has sadness, she has anxiety and she worries. At some point she is okay, and at other moments she just losses it without a warning. She goes extreme when she losses her mind, so it is a different kind of mental illness.

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A post shared by Xoli Zondi-Zamisa (@xolizondi) on

Preparing for the role

So, the creative director called me before I started shooting and explained the character to me.

I then had to go and do my own research. Njengoba ngisho, like I am saying, mental disorders are different and broad. So, I had to understand hers and tread very carefully because it is a really sensitive topic. Now I’ve done my research, I am able to play her without being offensive or in a way that would be distasteful.

Read more| Mental illness is booming – and you have a role to play

On society and mental disorder

As black people, we still have a long way to go to understand and learn more about mental illnesses. This is not to say we are people that don’t want to learn or know more, but there is also the language barrier.

Mental illnesses are different and there are no names for them in our own languages. So, it’s just Ukuhlanya, being crazy, when a person is bipolar, has anxiety, or is depressed. However, I think we are learning, and we are open to learning.

That is why I say I was very careful about how I played Violet because mental issues are a sensitive topic. Especially for my new character, her journey – she didn’t just wake up with mental illness. No, things happened to her and the pressure of life happened, and she found herself committing a crime. That is when they learnt she actually has a specific condition.

We still need to learn more about mental disorders and know that people who have them have a place in society. They just need to be better understood and get the help they deserve.

Read more| Three actors who are joining the cast of Imbewu: The Seed

On motherhood

Motherhood has been so amazing and a rollercoaster ride at the same time.

I had my firstborn when I was very young – still a student and I was not married. So, this time around it has been such an amazing experience and less stressful because I am not doing it alone. My husband is there with me and that has been beautiful.

Being a mom has taught me to be patient, be still, and to listen. To give attention when it is needed and give time – and that I just need to calm down.

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Lets count????

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One piece of advice to your girls

Just throw yourself in at the deep end. Whatever opportunity you get, throw yourself in.

And I am saying this because I wasn’t like that. I calculated everything – I planned and over-planned at times and I ended up missing opportunities because I was very careful.

So, I would like to advise my girls to be careful, but to take all the opportunities that come their way. I am already saying that to my older daughter – that she must go for everything she wants.

Stranded on an island with just one person, who would you pick?

I would pick my husband.

He makes life so easy. I always make that explanation when I am asked to describe him.

It is almost as if he sees problems before I get to them, and by the time I get there, they are much lighter and more bearable. That is a quality and trait I would never trade for anything.

So, I would rather be stranded with him because I know that even if I was thirsty, he would figure something out. I don’t know what he’d do, but he would make a plan. He is my superman.

Read more| Are you feeling anxious and depressed? Here's how to tell when you need medical help

Five things you can’t live without

My bible

Water (I can’t live without water and lately I drink it like a camel!)

Sweets (All types of sweets)

A cup of coffee

And, I can’t think of the fifth thing!

If you had to lose one of your senses, which one would it be?

I would rather lose my sense of touch.

I love talking and listening to stories. So, I can’t afford not to be able to talk and hear.

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The Zamisas???

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What is your skincare routine?

I don’t have one.

I don’t have perfect skin but I have never struggled with my skin enough for me to start following a specific routine.

I think drinking water works for me, but also I wash my face with just pure water. I use cold water with no soap.

Advice to your younger self

I would say all things are possible and you can open any door.

I grew up thinking there were things I was not worthy of. Coming from a family that wasn’t well off, I thought certain things were out of reach and were only for specific people.

I might not have been vocal about it, but the way I lived my life and the choices I made, I limited myself.

So, I would say all things are possible, even for you, Xoli.

One thing you wish you knew about marriage before you got hitched

Finances! My goodness, nobody teaches us about these things.

Not just my money and my husband’s money, but there are so many things that need money.

You know how, as girls, when we are growing up, we are taught how to cook, clean, bake, and take care of the house. But no one teaches us about finances. No one tells us there is something called a will, there is a bond and car instalments.

But it’s not too late. I am teaching myself by reading books and trying to learn as much as I can. Because I understand that finances can cause problems in a marriage, and I don’t want to get to a point where I am like, this is the biggest problem in my marriage.

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