Zandile Madliwa, a 25-year-old actress from Parklands, has landed a role as one of the leading characters in Aunty Merle, The Musical, the Marc Lottering comedy now showing at the Baxter Theatre.
Originally from Langa, Zandile was raised with her brother by a single mother.
She discovered her love for acting when she was still in primary school. An American exchange teacher did an exercise with her class, where they had to act as other people, and Zandile chose to be a lawyer. She loved it.
With encouragement from the teacher, Zandile started drama classes, but they were just for fun and she never thought she would be able to earn a living from acting.
Later a chance encounter helped propel her onto a much bigger stage.
As a 12-year-old pupil at St Joseph’s Marist College, Zandile bumped into two men carrying cameras in a school corridor. One of them told her they were looking for child presenters for a show and asked if she’d like to audition.
That’s how she ended up doing the Just Chill show on SABC 2.
“I was just happy that I could have a job during the holidays and we would got free food, which was a bonus for me,” says Zandile.
“To be honest, after three years, I got tired of being a presenter. I continued with my drama classes, however, and I always knew that I wanted to be in entertainment.”
Meanwhile, it was her high school’s staging of Little Shop of Horrors, in which she was cast as doo-wop girl that further cemented her love of acting.
“That is when I really fell in love with acting, and it became harder for me to lie and pretend like I wanted this corporate life.”
While many parents don’t take it too well when they realise their child isn’t going to be a doctor, lawyer or accountant and even less well when that child reveals they intend pursing a career in the arts, Zandile says she never had that problem.
Her mother, she says, has always encouraged her to follow her passion, and it was with her support that she was able to study drama at UCT.
It was after school that Zandile landed her first professional TV acting gig, with a leading role in SABC 1’s When We Were Black season 2.
She has a role in the international Netflix series Black Mirror, playing Alien Girl, and, in 2016, she was nominated for best actress at the Cape Town 48 Hour Film Project. Recently, she joined the cast of The Fall for the Edinburgh Festival in Scotland.
In Aunty Merle, she plays the part of Nambitha, Aunty Merle’s helper’s daughter, who went to London for a couple of years to study and comes back with an attitude.
“She’s angry at the state of black lives in the country. She’s angry at the politics, her childhood and that nothing has changed. She’s also angry at the fact that her mom is still a domestic worker. She is angry at everyone, including herself,” says Zandile.
She says she loves working with Marc Lottering in the musical: “Marc is so funny, so sweet, an incredible writer, very understanding and he is very approachable.”
Zandile’s goals extend beyond the stage and into real life, and she says she wants to decolonise the arts, which she feels are dominated by a select few who fail to do justice to African stories. She wants African stories to be told by Africans.
“I want to direct. I want to write shows and encourage black people and people of colour through my work. I would like to tell our stories the way we would or our ancestors would tell it and not the way that the masters or the rulers would retell our history.”