Generations changed my life, says Ntshaba
Once upon a time Winnie Ntshaba was fired from SA’s most-watched TV show Generations.
In August 2014, the world came to a standstill over the sudden death of Hollywood legend Robin Williams, but back home we were mourning the end of a different era.
Renowned TV creator Mfundi Vundla had shockingly sacked his entire cast over a long-running dispute with the actors demanding better pay.
Infamously dubbed the "Generations 16", the A-list cast included Ntshaba, Katlego Danke, Menzi Ngubane, Slindile Nodangala, Zolisa Xaluva, Seputla Sebogodi and others.
It wasn’t a laughing matter at the time, but Ntshaba bursts into laughter as she remembers how the role that made her a star ended abruptly.
It may have ended in tears, but it was not in vain. The Generation 16 ushered a resistance movement of actors fighting for their seat at the table instead of remaining poised and charismatic while facing unfair wages and working conditions.
Although she thinks the whole saga could have been amicably resolved, Ntshaba doesn’t regret any of it.
“I think we all handled things ruled by emotions – everyone from the producers to the channel and cast. But I’m glad that we all went through that,” Ntshaba observes.
“Firstly, when one door shuts, another opens. But some of the things we were fighting for are being implemented now. We didn’t lose our jobs in vain.”
For almost 10 years, Eshowe-born Ntshaba became a household name playing Khethiwe Buthelezi – the dowdy village girl that moves to Joburg to be a housekeeper and lust after her boss Tau Mogale (Rapulana Seiphemo).
As audiences got to know the character, she had an extreme makeover that resulted in her becoming a supermodel and the face of a fictional beauty campaign La Cioccolata.
While the storyline was a typical Cinderella tale that we have seen in many Hollywood productions such as Pretty Woman and Maid in Manhattan, it won hearts of many South Africans because it was closer to home.
“I don’t think I would have left the show because fear of the unknown locks you down. But there is so much out there. Ultimately [being fired] was a blessing,” Ntshaba believes.
As Khethiwe was having her rags to riches tale unfold onscreen, in real-life Ntshaba experienced a similar trajectory.
Ntshaba completed her drama degree at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in 1997. After years of doing theatre work, she moved to the City of Gold in 2000 to pursue her big acting dreams.
She got a rude awakening when she was not cast in anything for months. Eventually Ntshaba got a gig doing educational theatre shows in schools around the country.
It wasn’t until 2002 that she landed her first TV role playing a street kid on Backstage. Living in Yeoville at the time and using public transport, Ntshaba says that role didn’t change her life much. The role lasted for only three months and it was back to square one.
But chaos ensured when she was cast as Khethiwe on Generations in 2005.
“When I joined the show I appeared briefly in the last scene before the credit rolled. There I was saying ‘forgive me sbali can I bring my bags’ – that’s all I said,” Ntshaba recalls.
“The following day I went to the mall as usual in a taxi and people started pointing at me, saying ‘that’s her’.
“That’s how huge Generations was and it changed my life.”
After exiting the show, Ntshaba has starred in many other shows including, The River, The Herd, Isibaya, Isithembiso, Broken Vows and The Road. But she can never escape Khethiwe and it doesn’t bother her.
Her greatest achievement to date came right after her firing when she serendipitously founded the Royalty Soapie Awards that first staged in 2014.
The awards will screen for the fourth time on SABC 1 on September 26. They last took place in 2018.
“Getting funding has always been a struggle. We always want to do a big thing and I think eventually we will get there,” Ntshaba says.
“I dream of a day where we can give prize money because for me the true sense of celebrating someone’s excellence is to give them something of value.”
The awards not only honour those in front of the camera, but also those behind-the-scenes with various technical categories.
“I feel like there is so much that goes around in the making of a show and there are so many people that work tirelessly behind the show that need to be celebrated.
“We want to bring awareness of the careers that are there behind the scene because if someone at home sees ‘art direction’ they are going to ask themselves what do they do,” Ntshaba, whose was once married to a TV production cameraman, said.
This year she launched the Royalty Soapie Foundation. From October they plan to go to communities around the country developing the filmmaking skills of disadvantaged youth.
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