Cape Town - Their dynamic personalities keep viewers glued to their screens and are the reason they trend on social media week after week.
Between them they have 45 years in the acting business and enough life experience to write their own scripts, so it’s little wonder Moshidi Motshegwa and Tinah Mnumzana are two of the most popular actresses on local TV.
On 1Magic’s telenovela, The River, they play best friends who’ve been through all sorts of trials and tribulations, as fans well know. Moshidi is Malefu, dedicated wife to mineworker Thato, who is killed by the ruthless Lindiwe Dlamini (played by Sindi Dlathu). Left widowed with three children, she must find a way to survive and heal.
Tinah plays Flora, a domestic worker whose gay son, Happy, is also killed by Lindiwe, her boss, after he tried to blackmail her. But Flora still believes her employer can do no wrong. The pair draws on personal experiences to make their characters work, they tell DRUM, and they work well together because they have great respect for each other – both personally and professionally.
We chat to them about how they got to where they are today.
Moshidi turning sorrow into art
The 42-year-old star lost her father, Solly, just three months before getting the job on The River – and this contributes to how she tackles the role, she says.
“My father was sick – he had one lung and he passed away in August last year. Three months later I got this role. “Had my father not passed away I don’t think I would have tackled it in the same manner.
When death parks in your front yard and grief befriends you and sinks you into a story like this one, you give it everything you have. Because of my experience, the directors and producers allowed me to explore the character and give my input.”
Playing a grieving wife is also therapeutic for her and helps her deal with her own grief, she says. It also means being able to put herself in her mother Martha’s shoes and understand how she dealt with losing a husband.
“It allows me to think about death and the different emotions you go through, the silences, the tears, the memories we hold onto and the memories we let go. “When this role came, it’s like I knew exactly what it needed from me.”
HOME IS WHERE IT ALL BEGAN
Moshidi, who grew up in Alexandra township in Johannesburg, has fond memories of her father and the love he had for his wife and four children. Both her dad, who was a driver, and mom, a school principal, made her the person she is today – teaching her the value of education and independence.
“I wanted my own paycheque, I wanted my own house. I knew the world where I grew up in had limitations.
“We grew up where mothers often didn’t work and depended on the husbands. I saw people borrowing R5 because the husband didn’t leave any money and I told myself that wasn’t going to be my storyline.”
LIFE BEGINS AT 40
Moshidi hopes to teach her baby girl the same values she grew up with. She gave birth to her daughter, who she doesn’t want to name, four months ago and for her it was the perfect time to become a mother because she was ready.
“The love I give my child at 42 is very different to the love a 22-year-old will give their child. I’m not coming into motherhood with the stress of my career, with financial difficulties,” says Moshidi.
“I’ve done it all – travelled, dined and partied – and now it’s time for me to be a mother.” She didn’t plan to have a child after 40 though. “It just happened – life happened. “I don’t feel too old. I don’t even think the word old exists in my vocabulary – you can mature and grow but ageing is about getting closer to who you are.”
TINAH GOING FOR BROKE
The 51-year-old says playing a struggling mom who’s trying raise her children with what little she has is a case of art imitating life.
In 2003, while working on Isidingo, Tinah bought a house in Xavier Reef, south of Johannesburg, for herself and her two kids. But her joy was short-lived as the house was soon repossessed.
“I was only able to pay for the house until 2005. Around that time a pastor told me to stop running away from my calling [as a priest] because it would create problems for me and I would lose everything I have. “I ignored it and jobs disappeared, the house was gone, the contracts ended and I was written out of the script. I didn’t have money.”
Her son, Bokang (17), couldn’t even go to school because she was broke. “I took him to live with my aunt while my daughter [Nonkululeko, 25], stayed in res at Wits where she was studying.”
She finally accepted her calling and was ordained as a preacher in May 2016. But she hasn’t fully recovered financially, she adds. “My name is still on the creditors’ list. I still have unpaid debt.” Spiritually, however, she has been enriched, she says.
NO DENYING IT
Spirituality is another thing she has in common with Flora and she might not have survived the challenges she’s faced if she hadn’t heeded her calling.
“Since 1992 I was being told by prophets and pastors I have a calling beyond acting and I ignored it until things became bad for me,” she says. This included the failure of her marriage. She dated her ex-husband for years and they got married in 1992 but it lasted only three years, she says. “There are things I found out about my marriage from my dreams and my spiritual messages but they are too personal to share.”
Once she was ordained as a preacher the jobs came back, including a role on the American adventure series Black Sails where she starred alongside Moshidi and Tony Kgoroge.
LIFE'S A GIFT
The dark days have now officially lifted for Tinah. Now she can afford to give her kids a bit of money and has moved into a rented apartment in Johannesburg.
She believes that while many actors find it difficult to share their real-life stories, talking about her issues can help others in the industry be sensible about the realities of life “and not die paupers”.
Even with the many challenges she’s faced, there’s nothing she’d rather be doing.
“I’m a gospel poet, an actress and a preacher and that is the gift I have been given.”