Harriet Manamela on playing Meikie Maputla and lessons from her failed marriage

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Harriet Manamela talks about the importance of good communication, as she opens up about relationships and the character she plays.
Harriet Manamela talks about the importance of good communication, as she opens up about relationships and the character she plays.
Supplied/Skeem Saam

You hear the name Meikie Maputla and you already know there will be drama. Actress Harriet Manamela (50) says her character on Skeem Saam often shocks her as much as she shocks viewers.

Fans have seen Meikie do it all. She has lied, bullied her daughter-in-law, and she has even shot and killed a man who held her family hostage.

Look, she's not all bad, Harriet says, but she admits Meikie is a lot.

The actress tells Drum her favourite of all the storylines her character has had is the one from the first season when one of her sons was in an accident that killed a man.

“That storyline was important because it showed how parents respond to situations that involve their children and how they, especially mothers, want to be like hens and cover their kids.

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“Also, I thought the storyline between Meikie and Mokgadi (played by Pebetsi Matlaila) was also very important. A lot of young women find themselves in drama-filled relationships with their mothers-in-law.

"In this case, Meikie projected her own issues on her daughter-in-law. She just wouldn't let go of her son because for the longest time, she was the only woman and she got to control him. So, she was acting out when Mokgadi came into the picture.”

Speaking of relationships, Harriet shares she does have a partner and God willing, she would like to get married again. She has been divorced for over 20 years, she reminds us.

“Oh, we were so young when we got married and we were just in love and went into it blindly.

“When I turned 40, I did a lot of reflecting and I saw there were things I should have done differently. There were times when I should have spoken up, but there were also times when I shouldn’t have said anything.”

Her marriage lasted for six years and they had three children.

“We were both really just starting our careers and trying to establish ourselves. I remember I was doing a lot of theatre at the time and I had to leave home in the evenings around 5pm because shows started at 8pm. That became an issue because I would leave him with the kids or take them to my family. I would be done in theatre around 10pm and because we didn't have a car, instead of fetching the kids from my folks, I would just sleep over because it was late.

“It became problematic when a married woman spent so many nights sleeping at her parental home. Then trust issues started creeping in. It was really a lot and there was no one coming to us offering advice on how we could move forward.”

With the gift of hindsight, Harriet says she would have done a number of things differently and one of those would have been to communicate better.

“I often didn't express and articulate myself as I should have. We were not like your generation. You young people go to premarital counselling and that is so important. When I look back now, I cannot believe how clueless I was when I said yes to my husband.

"But you guys communicate your plans and when you get married you do so with a plan regarding what you want to achieve as a unit, and I love that.”

She tells us her daughter is 32 and they communicate openly and freely, something she didn't do with her own mother.

“I would advise young married people or those who want to get married to use their parents and other family elders. Use us as much as possible. We are here for you.

"Your partner should be your friend and I am not saying you must not have your own friends, but your partner must be your friend so you can talk about anything.”

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Harriet says being an actress has given her insight into others.

“Playing different people over the years has given me an opportunity to see how women find themselves responding to certain situations and that helps in my personal life because sometimes I know not what to do. I learn a lot from the characters I play.”

She says viewers can look forward to more drama from her Skeem Saam character.

“There are going to be fireworks. If you think Meikie is crazy now, then you better hold on to your seats,” she laughs.

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