They made history but also broke many hearts when they introduced an interracial kiss in 2016.
Actress Enhle Mbali became a target of racial slurs after her character on the soapie kissed a white guy.
In 2019, Carina Nel, who plays the character Alexa, and Nicolas Nkuna (Fikani) who have had feelings for each other for months and finally acted on it and kissed, which shocked some of their viewers.
In 2020, they received backlash when they showed a gay kiss between Shawn (Deànré Reiners) and Emile (Christopher van der Westhuizen) locked lips.
Now, SABC 2 soapie 7de Laan is entering “dangerous” ground again and are ready for criticism as they welcome an openly gay character, Zakhele “Zee” Guliwe to Hillside through the7de Laan cast internship program. He will be played by Ray Neo Buso, who is as flamboyant in real life as his character is. The internship program is in its fourth annual intake and remains the most sought-after program for young actors.
“I was thrilled and excited when I got the role and the positive attitude that I went into the audition with gave me a positive outcome,” Ray tells Drum. As an openly gay man like his character, Ray is ready for criticism.
“I grew up in pageants and you’re criticised a lot,” he says.
“I grew up dancing where your teacher will criticise your dancing and they take it as grooming. I joined my first agency in primary school and hearing 'no' often groomed me to handle the criticism. Everything in entertainment is put out for people to enjoy and criticise and you have to take what you get,” he says.
"Every gay person has experienced criticism of some sort, not only from family or friends but it comes in the form of a stare, a look of disgust that someone gives you. This is why people in the LGBTQI+ community end up having thick skins and big personalities. So, they can stand up for themselves and not have people not walk all over them. “
The character of Zakhele or “Zee” is flamboyant, yet kind and openly gay.
He is quite a socialite and in tune with the power of social media. And that is not far from what Ray is in real life. “Zee really enjoys social media and fashion, and I realised while shooting that so do I. I also want to believe that to my family and friends, I am a straight talker, just like Zee.”
He enters Hillside to visit his relative, Aggie. But things get off to a rough start when he is attacked and left by the roadside. While in recovery, he warms up to the Hillsiders who enjoy his confident and humorous personality and they openly welcome him into their circles. Zee integrates himself into their daily routines experiencing the love and support of this close-knit community.
Ray says he can play any role and doesn't want to be typecast.
"I have found that there are people who typecast me. This is the second gay character I play. It’s a hard thing. I don’t always want to play the gay character because I can show a different range of characters. It’s up to the casting directors to open their minds and see if a person can play any role, whether a straight character or a villain.”
Rays says he has seen in previous shows that they tend to make the gay characters two-dimensional.
“The character is either comedic relief or a supporting character to the main actor. They never really have their own storyline or show the troubles they go through,” he says.
Playing Zee, he wanted to show diversity.
“I wanted to show that a gay character does not have to be camp (a stereotypical view of feminine gay men) and they do have emotions, issues, and secrets they won’t share with anyone. I wanted to play it as true and as authentic as possible. Even if you are camp there’s more to you than that. I look at it like an onion and everyone has layers to them,” he adds.
Ray was born in Soweto and raised in Atteridgeville. He's had a passion for dancing and acting since he was six and went on to make a career of it.
“Growing up I was a very artistic child, doing pageants. I started dancing at 5 years old and acting in community theatre. It already opened so much into the art world, but I was not sure I wanted to be in the entertainment industry. I still dabbled in sports, academics, and public speaking so I could open my mind to everything around me. I tried a bit of everything, so I could be certain about which route to take in life,” he says.
Ray graduated from the University of Pretoria in Film and Dramatic Arts and received further dance training at the Cape Academy of Performing Arts.
He has worked in dance including performing with the Cape Dance Company, acting for Arepp: Theatre for Life, he has done a bit of work for the international movie Dark Tower. He's also danced on a German cruise liner named Mein Schiff. On television, he was seen in shows like Skeem Saam and did voiceovers for the Good Man Gallery. Ray’s dashing looks also saw him crowned Mr. Youth South Africa 2012.
In addition to his life as a dancer, actor, and model, he loves crowd engagement and often enjoys MC and presenting roles. Ray looks up to his late grandparents. Last year, he lost his paternal grandparents and a year before that he lost his grandmother.
“They taught me humility and to remain humble no matter what I have achieved. My paternal grandmother was in the arts until a mature age, she was a choir conductor and taught me to always strive for what I want in an industry I believe I belong in. She taught me passion. My paternal granddad taught me to take every single moment and cherish it.”
He plans to grow in the entertainment industry, learn, meet new people and maybe play a villain.
“I’ve always wanted to play a villain. I always used to focus on the villain while growing up and analysed the life of villains. I’ve played straight characters on theatre but not on screen and I look forward to that.”