Recently, Fezile Makhanya (35) – who currently stars in the local soapie ‘Uzalo’ (SABC 1) – has been flourishing as an actor, and his embodiment of eclectic roles has been hailed by audiences as exceptional. He chats to Blacklight about his evolution as an actor.
By: Thanduxolo “Thandz” Buti
Main Image: Supplied
With the eruption of the pandemonium caused by the Covid-19 which is currently sweeping the world, certain regions of the country have been shut down and many forced into quarantine, in efforts to stop the virus from spreading. As a result, television has become a great source of comfort and escape.
Speaking to the television star, Fezile, during our telephone interview, he concurs that the world is currently going through a rough time.
“People should stay safe, follow the instructions and really look after themselves,” he advises.
“I definitely think that travelling is a big no-no. And we should also limit those who are coming into the country.”
The actor, who is currently mesmerising viewers on the most-watched soapie in the country Uzalo, as Mpumelelo “Mpume” Hlatshwayo, has been at the center of conversation for his portrayal of a gay character.
For those who have recently become aware of his work, Fezile first made a name for himself as a presenter on SABC 1 (2006 – 2008), but in recent years he has evolved into a bonafide actor.
Over the course of his career, he has had “rather overlooked” roles on multiple TV shows, such as Gaz’lam, Zone 14, Rockville and Tempy Pushas, to name a few.
Last year, his chilling performance on The Queen [Mzansi Magic] as Tebogo – the abusive partner of Kae (played by Dineo Moeketsi) – was a resounding success, and finally made local viewers take note of his acting chops.
He followed the prime-time momentum, with the role of Mpume, on Uzalo, a business-savvy gay man who challenges the stereotypes about sexuality.
Fezile says he accepted the role because he constantly wants to keep improving as an actor.
People are very opinionated about all kinds of characters and that can help improve your craft because when you step into any role you are mindful of how people will engage with the character. – Fezile
“As an actor you are always auditioning even when you are working,” he explains. “And for the past three years I have been blessed with great roles that I have been able to execute well – which has not solely been my doing, it has also been with the assistance of a great cast, crews and production companies.
“With playing Mpume, I am not going to lie, there is still a lot of stigma around homosexuality,” he adds.
“Also, when people think of homosexual men, they usually think of them as mainly flamboyant in nature. However, you find straight looking men whose sexual preference just happens to be the same sex.
“Internally, it’s a challenge to portray such a character because you can be tempted to lean towards the stereotypes – bending your hand or rolling your eyes – but you are actually just portraying another ordinary guy.
“But overall, it has been fun playing the character.”
Considering that Uzalo depicts the township life in Kwa-Mashu, KwaZulu Natal, a gay storyline can make some viewers rather uncomfortable.
And judging by some comments on social media, some viewers have been rather baffled by Mpume’s masculine appearance, especially as an openly gay man.
While some have applauded the character’s role in challenging gay representation on local television.
Fezile believes that when you play a character, you must be able to accept the good and bad that comes with the role.
“People are very opinionated about all kinds of characters and that can help improve your craft because when you step into any role you are mindful of how people will engage with the character,” he explains.
The actor says he simply wants to depict the lives of ordinary South Africans – whether rich or poor, straight or gay. “We are not making these things up, it’s things that are there. We are simply portraying what we have seen or heard, or experienced.
He adds: “As a continent, we are starting to be comfortable with who we are. We are loving our blackness and enjoy telling our stories. We are also embracing our lingos [languages].
“Remember there was a time when people used to have the American accents; meanwhile they had never even left their provinces of birth.
“Now we are more about what is truly us. That, for me, is an inspiration.”
“I understand that being an artist is not about trends, it’s about growth.” – Fezile
Fezile seems to be truly discovering his voice as an actor. Despite being a regular on the small screen, he also starred in the proudly South African film, Uncovered, shown during last year’s international film festival circuit, which is now available for streaming on Netflix.
He reveals that acting was something he decided to dabble in after having conquered presenting. “It happened gradually but it eventually caught up and kind of overtook the presenting,” he says.
“Right now, I would say it’s more on the same level because I was also a presenter of the Nedbank Ke Yona Team Search 2019, which is nominated for a SAFTA (South African Film and Television Award) for Best Competition: Reality Show.
“Whether I consider myself an actor or presenter? I would say: ‘I act to present, and present to act.’”
Having evolved into a true chameleon as an actor, he reveals that in the past he accepted any role that was being offered because he was not cognizant of his role as a performer.
“Now I take on roles that are meaningful to me and I believe will take me to the next level as an actor,” he explains. “I understand that being an artist is not about trends, it’s about growth.”
Apart from being an entertainer who juggles many hats, in real life, Fezile is a doting husband.
He shares that he strives to maintain balance so that he is able to be fully present in all aspects of his life.
“Before being an entertainer, I am just a Zulu guy from KZN (KwaZulu-Natal) who came to Johannesburg to pursue his dreams,” he says. “Me being able to perform to the best of my ability requires that I be one with God and nature. It requires that I live a balanced life – exercise, eat healthy, and also maintain the key relationships in my life. It’s all about stability, holistically.”
As for whether he has found his true purpose, he takes a moment to ponder before saying: “I believe one’s purpose constantly evolves over time.
“It’s like climbing a mountain, only to find that there is another mountain waiting on the other side that is bigger than the one before.
“However, my general purpose in life is to be the best that I can possibly be, in everything that I do – be acting, presenting, existing, being a husband, a friend etc.”
Fezile advises young people who wish to emulate him to “persevere and to remember why they are doing it.
“Even when the obstacles are stacked against you, you have to fight to continue with the journey until you get there.
“Will, you ever get there? I don’t know. Because you can never truly know what the next person is truly chasing. Sometimes it can be beyond what you perceive it to be.”
He continues: “As people, all that we can do is simply our best – to keep learning, to humble ourselves, and be kind to one another.
“And also to ask for help when we don’t know what to do. You’d be surprised at how many people are willing to assist when you reach out.”