The Queen actor Sipho Manzini on his role as Mjekejeke

2018-10-26 16:18
 
Sipho Manzini (PHOTO: Drum)

Cape Town - A pansy with no backbone. A man who goes where the wind blows and is often forced to participate in illicit deals by his boss. A wimp who is regularly emasculated by his wife who runs the show in his house. This is how Sipho Manzini (53) describes Mjekejeke aka Mjakes, the comical character he plays in hit Mzansi Magic drama The Queen.

He’s the kind of guy who never says no to anything, he adds, no matter what is asked of him. Yet in real life he’s no weak yes-man, he insists. He doesn’t say “how high” when people tell him to jump and he’s no softie at home either – although he’s the first to tell you he’s happy to cook, clean and wash dishes because he’s a man “who likes to see his family happy”. But he doesn’t like how weak Mjekejeke is, he adds.

He allows his wife, Petronella (played by Thembsie Matu), to control him and will do anything his bosses want him to do. And because the veteran actor is so good at playing a pushover, people presume he’s like that in real life too. “I was shocked to hear people talking about me as if I was Mjakes in real life,” he says. “They were wondering, ‘Why is he so silly on TV but in real life he doesn’t look like he’s dumb?’ But I know people can’t separate the TV character from the real thing.”

Sipho is so at home in Mjakes’ shoes it’s hard to believe he almost blew the job at the very beginning. He was hundreds of kilometres away on holiday in his hometown of uMhlabuyalingana in KwaZulu-Natal when he got the call that he had to be on set the very next morning. “It was December and we were preparing to go to the beach when they called and told me I had to start the next day. So I had to drive the whole night to get there.”

He was in Joburg by morning and rushed straight to the set. “Everyone was waiting for me and I hadn’t read the script because I’d been driving. I asked them to read it to me because I’m short-sighted.” He aced the role, much to his delight. “I’m glad I drove back that night because if I hadn’t they would’ve replaced me.”

Sipho has been an actor for almost 20 years and was a regular on Generations, Scandal! and Muvhango before joining The Queen. People still sometimes call him Diamond, the name of the corrupt cop he played in his Generations days.

“It’s funny how people never forget some characters but I’m not going to lie, I enjoy it because these characters are the reason I’m able to put food on the table.” But playing Mjakes has brought him a new level of fame. “People recognise me more now – they want to take pictures with me wherever I go. Once I had to go and visit a relative in hospital and I spent half the visiting hour taking pictures with people.”

The attention doesn’t bother him but he admits it bothers his younger son, Nhlosenhle (13). “He doesn’t want me to fetch him at school,” says Sipho, who has an older son, Lindokuhe (24), from a previous relationship. “He says he doesn’t want his schoolmates to know he’s my son because he doesn’t like the attention – although funnily enough he is also interested in acting.” Nhlanhla, Sipho’s wife of 15 years, says she’s never seen her husband angry.

“He’s a good man. I’m very grateful to God for him because not many women have what I have. He is friendly and down to earth and he doesn’t shout,” she says Sipho is determined to be a good family man and the kind of father he never had. His father died in tragic circumstances when Sipho was just three years old. “My dad worked far away from home on the trains and he was poisoned,” he says sadly. Mystery still surrounds not only the exact nature of his death but also his final resting place. We don’t know where he’s buried,” Sipho says.

“My mother couldn’t leave home to make arrangements for the funeral because she’d given birth three days before to my youngest brother, Bheki. “When the family went to where my father worked to try to arrange the burial they were told he’d been buried already.” No one could tell them where he had been laid to rest and every inquiry the family made was met with a dead end.

His mom, Calsinah (now 83), who sold fruit to put food on the table for her kids, has never found peace, Sipho says. “It’s painful that we don’t know where my father’s grave is but w e t r i e d everything. There’s nothing more we can do.”

THE ACTING BUG BITES

Despite the hardships Sipho grew into a confident, talented kid. The acting bug bit when he was at the Star of the Sea High School in uMhlabuyalingana and one of the teachers – a man from London – introduced his class to the craft. After matric Sipho left home for Joburg and found a job at a metal company.

He saved enough money to enrol to study public administration at Unisa and kept his job at the metal company too. “But after I graduated all I wanted to do was act.” He started going to auditions and in 1988 he joined Sibikwa Arts Centre in Benoni to sharpen his acting skills. Sipho, who is now also a board member at the centre, says his first TV job was on SABC1’s Sokhulu & Partners.

“I was over the moon. My family was proud. It was just the beginning. I had to put in more work,” he tells us. He managed to juggle his day job with acting but he eventually got so busy he had to resign. “Sometimes when you’re shooting it can take a whole day or even a week. No employer would stand for that so I had to choose.”

He hasn’t regretted his decision for a second. So far he’s shot more than 30 Mzansi Magic low-budget films, playing a variety of characters. “The good thing about me is I’m not typecast.” Now he’s helping his son reach for his dreams. Sipho and Nhlosenhle shot a SABC drama, Ithuba Lokugcina, which wasn’t aired but that hasn’t dampened the youngster’s spirits. Nhlosenhle attends Saturday classes at Sibikwa Arts Centre and has his father’s blessing. “I really want him to do what he loves, follow his passion. Just like me.”

Read more on:    local celebrities  |  the queen

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