Actress Masasa Mbangeni on how teaching revived her love for acting
Masasa Mbangeni PHOTO: Gallo/Getty Images
Sex, politics and plenty of scandal – it’s the stuff good TV is made of! There’s the posh young woman, married to a high-profile politician who also happens to be sleeping with the president’s daughter. . . This hot storyline in Mzansi Magic’s The Republic has fans glued to their screens.
And Masasa Mbangeni, who viewers know as Bridget, is relishing the messy love triangle set against a backdrop of political tension.
Bridget contemplates leaving Thabang (Warren Masemola) after discovering he’s fathered a child with the daughter of the former head of state and Masasa loves how the anger towards politicians reflects real life. “The writers have their fingers on the pulse of what’s happening in South Africa,” she says.
“They wrote this ages ago but it’s so relevant. It’s like they could sense where we were going as a country. The people have had enough, and their tension has reached its highest point.” The actress says Bridget is unlike any character she’s played in the past.
“She’s passionate and good at her job. She’s vulnerable, well-read, well-educated and deals with the pain of being a mom who’s distant from her child because of work. She served Thabang with divorce papers because she felt incredibly betrayed.
Bridget deals with betrayal differently compared to the character that made Masasa a household name. “On Scandal! Thembeka was very conniving,” Masasa says. “But I realised over the years of playing Thembeka, she wasn’t really conniving – she was desperate for love.”
She left Scandal in 2016. There were reports she’d been a diva on set and left the show on a bad note, but these claims couldn’t be further from the truth, she says. She quit because she needed to discover herself. “There was no beef with Scandal!,” Masasa says.
READ MORE: 5 snaps of the man in Masasa Mbangeni’s life
“I left because I wanted to see other things.” She took her first acting class at the age of eight and landed her first TV role as a femme fatale in Scandal!. “I still have a deep love and empathy for Thembeka,” she says. “She was in love with a narcissist and co-dependent. When you’re that way, you do whatever it takes to get a person to love you.”
She loved everyone at the e.tv show and enjoyed earning a regular paycheque doing what she loved. But Scandal! was all she knew. “I’d never been a freelance actor before and didn’t know the struggles that came with it because I was cast as Thembeka immediately after varsity,” she says.
After five years on the show she spread her wings to see what the world had to offer. She landed parts in theatre productions Nongongo and The Suitcase alongside Siyabonga Thwala and Desmond Dube.
“We toured the UK for one month and South Africa for another month with The Suitcase.” But she felt strangely disconnected from work. “Out of nowhere, I started feeling isolated and confused. It was really weird because I was at the top of my game. I can’t say that I was miserable about anything specific, but something within me wasn’t sitting right.”
Her star was shining brightly but she’d hit a slump. “I have always been in control of my life and had it all figured out. Then out of nowhere I just became unhappy, to a point where I didn’t want to talk.
I literally wanted to close my mouth, so I got braces. But they were just a symbol of where I was,” she says. “I needed to align my teeth, align my life, align with God, align everything. This journey has been about breaking [down] to fix.”
She’s always been spiritual, so she took a break from acting to heal and pray. “My spirituality is very important. It’s the well from which I draw inspiration.” It was through prayer that she realised she wanted to teach, which she could do thanks to an acting degree from Wits.
“For a full year I taught textual analysis to first-year students at a private university to help them think critically,” she says. “Teaching was one of the most difficult experiences of my life. I wanted God to remind me why I love [acting]. “I wasn’t teaching for the money.
Nurses and teachers in this country don’t earn what they should. I did it because something in me needed to be replenished.” Even though she was their teacher, Masasa’s students tested her. “The biggest lesson I learnt is that I love what I do. The joy of seeing a student get it and knowing I nudged them in the right direction was enough,” she says.
She returned to TV when Gwydion Beynon and Phathu Makwarela invited her to join The River. Working on a TV show again felt like putting on an old dress that still fits. “I went with so much joy,” she says. “Walking away made me realise how much I love it.” She didn’t think twice when she joined The Republic – also written by them.
The role has helped her rediscover her zest for life, while the past few years have reminded her that the world is her oyster. “I spent most of my 20s asking who I am. When 30 hit me I was like, I don’t care now, I know myself,” Masasa says.
“There’s nothing more wonderful than knowing yourself. From here onwards I’m going abroad.”READ MORE: 'The universe humbled me' - Masasa Mbangeni on Harvest role