They are married to some of the most intriguing men in South Africa – on TV.
As the wives of the Zulu brothers on The Wife, they are envied, loved, hated and sometimes pulled apart on social media, depending on the story line.
And because readers had their own ideas of what the cast members from The Wife would look like, they had to be even more convincing in their roles. The series is based on books by Dudu Busani-Dube.
This Christmas, Drum sits down with two wives from The Wife, Hlomu and Naledi, played by Mbalenhle Mavimbela and Gaisang Noge, respectively.
She’s not shooting today, but she arrives at the Kyalami set just to speak to Drum. Dressed in short black tights, a black T- Shirt and sneakers, Mbalenhle is ready to jump right in.
She may be relaxed on her day off, but she is wearing Hlomu’s ring, to keep her in character.
“I try to keep something of hers on, to remind me to be her. It reminds me that I am a Zulu wife. Especially if I have a hectic shooting schedule.”
Mbali read the books when she was in high school, back home in KwaZulu-Natal.
“Back then there was just a lot of hype around the books, but I did not get very far.”
Fast forward to when she eventually she was already in the industry and auditioned for the series, she initially auditioned for Lerato.
“Then I auditioned for Hlomu and they liked the self-tape, then they called me in for a chemistry test with the different Mqhele options.”
When she and Bonko Khoza met, who was the first Mqhele, they both did not know each other.
“We had to get to know each other. We would sit and have lunch together even when we were not shooting. It was really great because as the audience saw Hlomu and Mqhele getting to know each other, we really were trying to get to know each other.
“Together with his wife, we would spend time together to sort of understand each other better. Even when he came to my home, my partner would be aware.”
What about those steamy sex scenes?
Mbali says her training as a model between the ages of 17 and 21 really helped her.
“By the time I shot The Wife, I was already comfortable with my body. I was happy in my own skin. But, also, the other thing about making television is that when you shoot those kinds of scenes, it's not a full set. Only the people who need to be involved are there to see you and it’s quite clinical in that as soon as they say ‘cut’ you quickly put on your gown and snap out of it, so there is nothing romantic or sexy about it. It is a closed set and it is all beautifully choreographed.”
As daunting as the inmate scenes may be to shoot, so are the emotional ones.
“They take a lot out of you and that is why our training is important. I am an honest performer and I apply the ‘imagine if it was you approach’ because then you put yourself in the character’s shoes.”
Mbali says she had to go to therapy because of Hlomu.
“She is very layered and not an easy character to play. Sometimes it can get really heavy. I believe everything happens for a reason and that there is a lesson to learn in every situation.
“Hlomu has been through a lot and I do not think anything can really get to her after she what she has gone through with Mqhele. Having to carry all of those emotions can be heavy and if they go unchecked, they can spill over to your personal life. I have started praying against the things that happen to Hlomu so that they do not manifest in my life. I have been personally and emotionally invested in this character.”
But even with all the trauma, she loves the character growth.
“She keeps the family together. The deaths, Bhut’Omdala leaving and Zandile also leaving has positioned her as the family matriarch. She steps up and the family respects her. I act a lot with my eyes this season.
“I am definitely going to miss playing Hlomu. This role has really opened up doors for me, but I pray that for future roles I do not get typecast. I really want to show my range as an actor.”
Speaking about motherhood, Mbali says meeting her handsome stranger in hospital and getting to know him has been a wonderful journey.
“I speak to him like I am speaking to my little brother. He really isn’t my son, he is my mother’s child. They are really close and I love it for them. I was really close to my grandmother, and I really understand the importance of their relationship.
“Everything my grandmother taught me is helping me to raise my son. And the main thing she taught me is that prayer works.”
And just as quietly as Mbali arrived, she disappears immediately after chatting to Drum.
It’s a while before Drum can pin Gaisang to sit down for an interview because she is busy shooting a scene at the hospital with her man, Qhawe, played by Kwenzokuhle Ngcobo.
But thankfully during lunch, she sits down for the interview and smiles for ear to ear as she talks about Naledi.
“I genuinely love Naledi. I am invested in her love story with Qhawe. I love their love. Both Kwenzo and I love these two’s story and I think that enhances our journey and our chemistry. Also, he and I genuinely care about each other and I think that comes through on the screen too.
“Also, the thing about Qhawe and Naledi is that no one really does that kind of love, that old school love, nowadays. It is treated like a weakness and I actually think it is a strength.
“I have to pinch myself a lot. I say, ‘God wake me up’ and he says, ‘No Nana, you’re supposed to be here’, I really am so grateful.”
Arriving in season two of the show meant that she arrives to an already established cast.
“It was a moving ship, and it was challenging at first, but thanks to everyone’s warm welcome I was able to blend in.
“Qhawe and Naledi have this gentleness for each other. For them it really is the simple things.”
Gaisang says North West Naledi and Joburg Naledi are different and she loves playing both of them.
“Joburg Naledi is not interest in the royal life. She wants to serve people in her own terms, as a doctor. She loves her dad, but he is too controlling.”
And right on cue, as it if were planned, veteran actor ntate Sello Motloung who plays her father – Kgosi Lerumo Montsho – walks in and interrupts the interview.
The two joke around and he is off to carry on with his business of the day.
“Their father-daughter relationship is honest and they are vulnerable with each other, and it works. As a young actress I feel blessed and humbled to work alongside such a legend.
“It is an honour to watch him work. Every time I see him do his thing, I am like a sponge, I absorb, learn, watch and listen.”
The men in Naledi’s life keep coming, Kwenzo comes in, smiles at her and runs back out within minutes.
On the show, Naledi may have this complicated life of being a Joburg-based doctor with family drama that requires her to lead a nation as their queen in a different province, while she is in love with a man whose family is embroiled in criminal drama.
But in real life, Gaisang is a simple rainbow- and unicorn-loving kind of girl.
She is the only girl with brothers. Her older brother makes sure she never quits, she says.
“My brothers are super supportive and my little brother was the one that recorded my self-tape for The Wife.”