Generations: The Legacy’s Andisiwe Dweba on her journey as a Sangoma on screen

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Cape Town - Bizzare dreams, sleep-walking and unexplained illnesses that have no cures – these were some of the signs that something was going on with Gertrude “Getty” Diale.

The party-loving Generations: The Legacy city girl wasn’t feeling all that great. And although her straight-talking sister, Lucy, warned that she should give in to her ancestral calling, Getty had a hard time accepting her fate.

The hit soapie’s gripping storyline elicited reaction from fans who have had similar experiences to Getty, played by Andisiwe Dweba (30). “

The storyline explores what happens in real life,” explains the actress, who has been playing the role of Getty since 2013.

“Many people relate to the story. Getty’s dreams and sudden paralysis is normal in the world of the ancestors. I’ve seen people go through the same thing. Then they recover miraculously – it happens,” she says.

Andisiwe says she has received messages from people telling her about similar dreams they’re having. “As an actor, I’m telling someone’s story. If you believe in it, good, but if you don’t, I hope after watching the show you may have a more informed view about ukuthwasa (the ancestral calling),” the Port Elizabeth-born actress says.

Vibrant Getty has had to overcome many obstacles which viewers also related to – such as being a spendthrift who lived way beyond her means and got caught in a debt trap. She then got mixed up with a loan shark, who she killed with the help of her thuggish sister, Lucy (played by Manaka Ranaka).

Now she’s on the road to becoming a sangoma. “I’m so excited about Getty’s transformation,” Andisiwe says. “I’m one of those people who want to balance both culture and religion, so this storyline is an exciting challenge for me.”

Playing a trainee sangoma involved many changes for Getty and Andisiwe buried herself in the role with typical professionalism. “I wanted the story to be as close to reality as possible and I did whatever I had to do to make it real.

For example, Getty had to be submerged in water in one scene, so the producers wanted to know if I could swim.” She wasn’t going to walk into the role without the proper tools. A perfectionist at all times, Andisiwe did her own research into ancestral calling to do the storyline justice. It also helped that she has a friend who does ukuthonga (dreaming) and she introduced Andisiwe to her gobela (sangoma trainer/mentor) to help the actress grasp what the ancestral calling entails.

“I spoke to my friend’s gobela and to a couple of other friends who have gone through this about ukuthwasa,” she tells DRUM. Andisiwe also consulted her colleague, Letoya Makhene, who plays the role of resourceful Tshidi Phakade and is also a real-life sangoma.

“Letoya really enlightened me about this journey. I did a lot of one-on-one interactions with people who have had the ancestral calling and asked about how following their spiritual journeys affected them mentally, emotionally and physically. “I needed to understand ukuthwasa completely because I wanted to be true and honest to my character’s journey.”

Through her research she learnt ancestral calling is not a choice. “It’s not up to you.” She’s spoken to other people who say it’s like an out-of-body process. Andisiwe felt like she was entering a different world.

“I had to learn how to align it with Christianity. And I learnt something bigger than us exists. It’s a different world that could change you irrevocably.” It also helped that the actress has a strong relationship with her own ancestors and believes in the basic home rituals of thanking them after she’s bought a car or secured a job.

“My family doesn’t necessarily believe in it, but they always support me when I tell them what I want to do.” She had a thanksgiving ceremony two years ago to thank her ancestors for her achievements to date, she says. “I told my mother I felt like thanking my ancestors for what I have in my life. My elders understood and the ritual was performed. I also pray so I have a good balance between my traditional beliefs and Christianity.”

While Andisiwe is open-minded and flexible when it comes to her beliefs, Getty doesn’t want anything to do with her ancestral calling. It’s witchcraft, she thinks. However, she’s forced to re-examine her beliefs when she is admitted to hospital, sleepwalks while she’s apparently “paralysed” and wakes up at a stranger’s doorstep. The stranger is of course her gobela who is tasked with helping her come to terms with her journey.

“Getty has a strong personality, Andisiwe says. “She’s against everything her family does – from the home-run shebeen her sister owns to the dodgy dealings of her sister and brother, Cosmo [played by Ronnie Nyakale].”

And having Lucy pushing her to accept her calling doesn’t help matters either. “Knowing how unreliable Lucy is makes Getty resist her calling. She also thinks being a sangoma is evil.

“She doesn’t believe it’s about being a healer, which is an alternative to modern medicine.”

It’s not an easy time for Getty, who also has to deal with the spiritual Gog’Flo (played by Ivy Nkutha), who prays for everyone in the family and doesn’t believe in the calling. The spiritual aspect was just one of the things Andisiwe had to get used to about her new storyline – not least the physical appearance of trainee sangomas, which meant ditching her lady-like appearance for muddy hair and a red traditional outfit.

“I was a bit overwhelmed and I must admit it also freaked me out,” she says. “I had to go back to my space to say this is not about me – I am telling someone else’s story and I have to portray it truthfully.”

Andisiwe says she has to be careful that the character doesn’t consume her because it’s impossible not be affected by something so powerful. Fortunately, she had a sangoma to advise her with the transformation of her character on set and a coach who helped her detach herself from the character. “I spoke to my elders about it and asked them to support me through this process. I also told my ancestors and God to carry me through this.”

And so far, she’s doing just fine.

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