Port Elizabeth-born actress stars in human trafficking drama

‘Mzali Wam’ series highlights plight of victims and role of patriarchy

Port Elizabeth actress Masasa Mbangeni plays Joyce on new Mzansi Magic drama ‘Mzali Wam’
LEADING LADY: Port Elizabeth actress Masasa Mbangeni plays Joyce on new Mzansi Magic drama ‘Mzali Wam’
Image: Supplied

It is often said that art imitates life and the phrase could not be truer for Mzansi Magic’s new drama series mirroring the plight of human trafficking victims in SA.    

With two Eastern Cape actors — Masasa Mbangeni and Dumisani Mbebe — leading the cast, Mzali Wam premiered to critical acclaim on Monday night.

Port Elizabeth’s Mbangeni plays Joyce Khaphayi, a woman whose child (Ntokozo) is stolen from her after birth, only to later cross each other’s paths when the presence of a human trafficking syndicate shocks the community.  

For every other South African, the storyline hits close to home as women and children live in constant fear of being trafficked, Mbangeni said, who plays the role of Khaphayi.

“This is our reality in SA where we are asked to retweet notices of missing women and children daily.

“I may not have had a personal encounter or personally know someone who has been trafficked but I’m bound to know someone soon,” Mbangeni said.

Though psychologically demanding, she said, the role was pertinent to SA’s patriarchal reality.

Mzali Wam is also quite a family drama because, as the story unfolds, you get to see what a woman goes through in a patriarchal society that expects them to bear sons even though genetically women don’t get to decide whether they make boy or girl children,” she said.

During its debut on Monday, viewers learned of Joyce’s multiple miscarriages while her in-laws questioned her womanhood for failing to give her husband children.

Following the debut, the KwaMagxaki actress said she received multiple messages from viewers who related to Joyce’s story.

“So many people sent me feedback saying they were triggered by that aspect of the story — the patriarchal demands of culture,” she said.

The 13-part drama is partly set in the Eastern Cape where the Khaphayi family hails from.

For Mbangeni, a PE Stageworld Theatre alumna, the lead role is as important as any other, she said.

“In the South African context, it doesn’t matter whether you’re number 1 or 99. It’s all the same.

“The story was quite psychologically taxing and I was blessed to work with a cast that carried it well together because the pressure is all the same.”

On dealing with the psychological strain of the job, the actress actively advocates for mental health, especially within the black community where the subject of mental health remains somewhat taboo.

“Acting affects your mental health because you’re carrying so many people’s stories in you and your body can’t differentiate between your emotions and your character’s emotions.

“I am fortunate that I have a wonderful support system in my mother, my partner and my family but I also think it’s important that people see therapists,” she said.

Mbangeni left Port Elizabeth at the age of 17 to pursue her dream of acting in Johannesburg where she obtained a dramatic arts degree from Wits University.

Reflecting on the years spent honing her skill, the former Alexander Road High School head girl looks back with gratitude, she said.

“I left Port Elizabeth on a Roadlink bus as a young girl with a dream I had been carrying in me since I was eight years old.

“Port Elizabeth has been such an important part of my career because I fell in love with acting in that city at Alex and when I studied at Stageworld Theatre School.

“So many people played a part in nurturing this art and when I look back at all the gifts PE has given me, I am filled with immense gratitude,” she said.

Mzali Wam airs on Mondays at 8pm on Mzansi Magic, DStv channel 161.

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