The tragic news of the talented film and television actress’s passing shocked the nation.
She was audacious, full of vigour and funny as hell.
In 2011, before Busi Lurayi rose to the levels of stardom she’d reached before her sudden death, she was a relatively new (but award-winning) actress on the Mzansi small screen, who was full of confidence and knew she what she wanted.
For her role as Tumi Sello on the Netflix production How to Ruin Christmas, she was nominated for another Best Actress in a Comedy gong – a brilliant achievement that she will never get to celebrate.
Busi’s management team, Eye Media Artists Agency, confirmed her passing in a statement on Monday, saying, “Busisiwe passed away suddenly and was pronounced dead at her residence on Sunday [10 July 2022] by medical personnel.”
In this 2011 interview, a 25-year-old Busi spoke candidly about her brave decision to pursue her dream and reaping the rewards after winning a Safta for her role as Phumzile in City Ses'la.
Her popular character Winnie Molepo on Sokhulu & Partners, Busi Lurayi is one glamorous woman. While she may not be scandalously seductive, she certainly knows how to make an entrance.
Arriving bang on time to meet us for coffee in Sandton’s swanky Taboo lounge, the 25-year-old turns heads in a flirty designer skirt, which, teamed with strappy Chanels, show off her long and shapely legs.
“I’m a time fanatic,” she explains.
“Blame it on my theatre upbringing. If curtain call is at eight, the show begins, with or without you.”
As for the whiplash her entrance may have caused, she quips, “You can’t fault a girl for sporting a pair of high heels . . . Whenever I wear high heels I remember to walk a little bit taller and a little happier.”
It’s the kind of opening line that would leave even the most jaded man flustered and shaking at the knees.
But for Busi it’s all just part of her obvious professionalism – a characteristic that helped her to scoop the coveted Best Lead Actress in a Comedy award at the 2011 South African Film and Television Awards (Safta) for her role as Phumzile in the much-loved sitcom CitySes’la.
“It’s such an honour,” she says.
In fact, this was her second Safta, having won her first back in 2006 for Best Actress in the same show. But this time around shea dmits that she spoiled herself rotten the day she beat legends Andrea Dondolo (Stokvel) and Anthea Thompson (Deeltitel Dames) who had both been nominated in the same category.
“The next day I woke up to a champagne breakfast, because I’m allowed to,” she says, flashing a smile. “I couldn’t be more blessed. I was up against great people – the calibre of people made me feel presidential.”
Despite appearing in two popular local series and the hit US medical drama series ER, Busi never thought she would make her career in acting.
“In high school I was a real A-type personality; I played sports, chess, athletics and what have you,” she says.
“I can’t remember a day that I would arrive home at two o’clock. At that stage I would go from wanting to be a diplomat one day to an architect the next. But Daddy would always say, ‘You’ll be perfect in whatever it is you want to do’.”
Her father, Freddy Mokoena, raised the bubbly Busi after he and her mom split.
But while she is clearly daddy’s girl, she has nothing but love for her mother. “My mom, Sandra Lurayi, and my dad may not be together but my heart remains close to my mom, hence I kept her surname. It was her bravest act to allow my father to be the key parent because it was best for me.”
After matric Busi set out to study architectural science at Wits University but soon discovered it was just not her thing.
“I stuck it out for like three weeks,” she says with a giggle.
“After my short stint as an architect student I told myself to be brave enough to go to film school.”
Her only other acting experience at the time was dabbling in school plays, but in 2002 she enrolled at the tertiary South African School of Motion Picture Medium and Live Performance (AFDA) where she studied motion pictures and performance.
“At the same time I became fascinated with dance. I got into a school production called Pata Pata. From then on the stage burnt my soles and I was hooked!”
Her first real break came when she stood in a queue at the Market Theatre for two days to audition for a role in Sarafina.
“After I got the chance to audition, the director called to tell me I’d made it. I couldn’t believe it and I knew I just had to make this work for me.”
A young Busi then had to break the news to her father that she would quit school for a while to pursue her acting ambitions in Sarafina.
With her father’s support, she then went on to star in a play called Shreds and Dreams alongside Portia Gumede and Generations’ Winnie Modise.
“It was directed by Bongi Ndaba,” she recalls.
“I was star-struck at rehearsals – it was just so awesome to work alongside those women.”
After three years in theatre, two of her college friends, Tumi Masemola and Mandla Ncongwane of Black Brain TV Productions, approached her with a business offer that was hard to turn down.
“They spoke about a comedy they were writing and told me to come and read for it.”
And so City Ses’la was born, along with Busi’s first soap opera character Phumzile, “who was a blast to play”.
But the young actress was again faced with another career-altering decision after completing just one season of filming.
“I got a call to feature in the American medical series ER, and while it was hard for me to step away from the City Ses’la team, I knew I couldn’t let the opportunity pass me by.”
And what an opportunity it was!
The break led to her being part of a drama titled Wild at Heart with the BBC, after which she returned to Ses’la last year and struck gold by joining the cast of Sokhulu & Partners as Winnie.
“Sokhulu & Partners was a professional step-up for me. For the first time I was working with people I used to watch on TV,” she says, still clearly in awe of her good fortune at landing a role in one of South Africa’s most popular TV series.
“I really had to up my game.”
Moving from a sitcom to a legal drama series was quite an adjustment for the versatile actress.
“Advocate Winnie is multifaceted– she speaks Zulu, although her father is Mopedi, but she also speaks Sesotho with her colleagues. I was thrown into a whole new linguistic world, which was achallenge as I don’t speak Sesotho,” the actress confesses.
“It was difficult in the sense that you have to respect every character you play although transforming into different roles is also the most exciting thing in our line of work,” she continues.
“The other challenge was whether I was going to be able to turn myself into a sexy, feisty woman without hair!”
Well, judging by how Mzansi has warmed to Winnie, this rising star is proving to be a class act.
This story was originally published in the 5 May 2011 print edition of Drum.