'Lockdown’s' Nthati Moshesh on her hard times: 'I was broke and living on handouts'

Nthati Moshesh (PHOTO:Drum)
Nthati Moshesh (PHOTO:Drum)

Johannesburg - The women under her spell worship the ground she walks on – yet little do they know what kind of evil lurks behind the serene smile. Masabatha, the new kid on the block in popular TV show Lockdown, has entered the fictional prison as a mass murderer and is already a hit with devotees of the Mzansi Magic production. And the actress who plays her has built a firm new fan base since making her grand entrance in season 4 as the blind charismatic cult leader who ends up behind bars after poisoning her congregation.

It’s one of her most challenging roles to date, Nthati Moshesh (49) says. The award-winning actress has been in showbiz for 29 years, having made a name for herself as Lerato in Egoli, the country’s first major soapie, back in the early 1990s. She’s played everything from a businesswoman in Home Affairs to a doctor in 7de Laan, yet nothing could prepare her for playing the master manipulator in the popular prison series.

The storyline, she says, is pretty timely. She’s referring to the recent rise of false prophets. “Masabatha will make people question their beliefs and learn more about indoctrination and the destruction of souls,” Nthati tells DRUM. “This role even made me examine and question my religious beliefs.” The actress, who describes herself as spiritual, was offered the plum part by the show’s executive producer, Mandla Ngcongwane.

“Mandla threw in the blind element at the last minute,” she says. “It caught me off-guard, but I loved it.” She winged her audition but, as fate would have it, she developed an eye infection a few days into shooting her first scenes. “Acting is such a spiritual job and the universe always works in mysterious ways. My eye infection was so bad I was booked off, but I continued to shoot some scenes. It helped me understand the feeling of being blind in a way.” The killer role couldn’t have come at a better time.


Nthati had hit a slump last year when her stint on Mzansi Magic’s Saints and Sinners came to an end. After being unemployed for close to a year, she wanted to quit showbiz. “I honestly wanted to give up acting. I felt there was something else out there that could bring me more money,” she says. “But acting is all I know and love.” She has a list of acting credits as long her arm and despite receiving a lifetime achievement award at the Saftas last year, Nthati tells us she’s been battling to get by. She’s late for her interview at DRUM’s Johannesburg offices and blames it on her battered old car. “I can’t afford a new car because I haven’t been working for too long,” she says.

Nthati is candid about the pitfalls of fame. “Sometimes being too experienced intimidates people and they don’t phone you for roles. “When I was younger, I never thought I’d be broke or that I’d go close to a year without an acting job. I always had work. I travelled and I thought I’d be walking red carpets forever. “But that’s not the case.”

After Saints and Sinners, she landed a theatre role in Zakes Mda’s You Fool, How Can the Sky Fall but when the play came to an end after four months, she was back to being penniless. “I went through an eight-month dry spell where I had absolutely no work,” Nthati says. “You know how our industry works – if you don’t work, you don’t eat. My finances were shocking. I had maxed out my credit card and I was relying on my family for handouts. Man, you have no idea.

“I started becoming despondent and considered throwing in the towel.” It’s a good thing she stuck it out. Her riveting performance as Masabatha has won her rave reviews – and a new generation of fans. “I’ve played almost every type of role on the planet,” she says. “But acting on Lockdown challenged me at a time when I was ready to give up. It reaffirmed to me this is where I’m meant to be. “It’s given me energy to get up again.”

She’s staring 50 in the face with a new lease on life. Nthati, who doesn’t look a day over 30, keeps in shape by swimming. She also feels better than ever now that she’s shed the baggage, she carried in her 30s and 40s. “I was always the good girl, a human-pleaser who worried about what people would say if I did anything outrageous,” she says. “I was Miss Goody Two-Shoes – that’s my biggest regret. “At 50 I’ve learnt to be freer, to dance whenever I feel like it and be as crazy as I want to be.”

She’s scraped together some savings to travel across Africa with son Sabelo (17) for her birthday in August. “My son loves photography. I want to take him on a trip where he can take beautiful pictures,” she says.  Her only child is her pride and joy, and being a mother is Nthati’s most rewarding role. “Motherhood is my biggest achievement and no awards can match the feeling. Sometimes I stare at my son until he begs me to stop. I can’t believe I created such a beautiful, smart and kind human being.”

The single mom is in no rush to find love. “If I do, I do and if I don’t, then I don’t.” But for now, she’s enjoying every moment of watching her son turn into a respectful man. “I’m teaching him how to treat women – basic manners and complimenting a lady because I’m raising a future dad and someone’s future husband,” she says.  “I want him to treat women the way I’ve always wanted it to be treated.” The proud mom credits her mothering skills to her own parents, Adelaide Moshesh and John Letlamoreng. “I am my mother’s child. Everything about me is like her,” Nthati says of her mom, who died of an aneurysm in 2009 on Nthati’s 40th birthday.

“My mom was my rock. She loved education. She was 60 when she got her degree in human resources,” she says proudly. Doting dad Jogn, who died of organ failure in 2013, was her biggest fan. “If I was on a magazine cover, he’d buy 10 copies and bring them home, so everyone had their own copy.” Even on her darkest days Nthati senses her parents are proud. “I know they’re together in a happy place,” she says. “They’re my angels now.

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