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‘I used to sell dagga’ – Keeping Score’s Unathi Platyi tells his story

2018-03-23 17:40
PHOTO: Supplied

He’s the star of one of the most gripping stories playing out on TV right now, which takes place in a world where dreams can be crushed by revenge, greed and ambition.

As Mbazo in the SABC 2 telenovela Keeping Score, he plays a Xhosa prince by blood, a boxer by training and a champion in the making – if he can stay alive in the dog-eat-dog world of the African Sports Academy.

Mbaza’s fists are his ticket to the big time but many want to tear him down. And bringing this character to life each week is a young man who knows all about doing what it takes to keep his head above water.

Unathi Platyi has a past steeped in poverty and desperation. Before he started making it in the entertainment world a few years ago, he was dealing in dagga – just as his mother did before she passed away when Unathi was 12 years old.

“I’d stock up on weed and I had a guy who sold it for me on the streets. That got me by for months,” the 27-year-old says candidly. “I’d make a minimum of R4 000 a month – R2 500 went towards my rent and I still had enough money to go for castings.”

But after several months of illicit dealing, he’d had enough and took a job as a personal trainer in a gym in Bedfordview instead. “I’m not proud of what I did, which is why I quit selling dagga,” says Unathi, a fitness enthusiast who grew up playing rugby and boxing – handy for his role as Mbaza.

 He worked in the gym for a year and used the money he earned to attend acting classes with veteran actress Dorothy-Ann Gould. In 2014 he landed a three-month stint on Isidingo as the prisoner 47, followed by a role in the e.tv series Heist.

“The acting went so well I decided to leave my gym job.” And he hasn’t looked back. “Anything could have happened to me. I could’ve been killed or spent years in jail but because I’ve been given so many chances, I chose to make the most of my life and inspire people.”

Now the actor travels the country with other performers to give acting and theatre workshops, as well as motivational talks, to underprivileged children in rural and township schools.

He’s also signed to Boss Models, all of which he fits in with his Keeping Score commitments. Not bad for a college dropout and one-time drug dealer.

Unathi was raised by his single mother, Mikkie Platyi, who ran away from her parents’ house in Mdantsane in the Eastern Cape when she was six months pregnant. She moved into a shack in Ziphunzana informal settlement near East London and made sure she provided for her son – by any means necessary.

“The neighbourhood we lived in was dangerous and had a high crime rate,” Unathi says. “There were lots of gangs but my mother was friends with all the gangsters. Everyone knew her because she was street smart and tough, and she could fight.”

Raising a baby on her own wasn’t easy so Mikkie, a domestic worker, started selling dagga on the side to supplement her salary. “Not many people can say their moms sold weed, but mine did. I saw many things a child shouldn’t see: I witnessed people getting shot and stabbed. This is where I learnt to fight and protect myself,” he adds.

When Unathi was 10 years old his mom decided he needed a more stable environment, so they moved back to Mdantsane and stayed with his aunt, Thobeka Maphumlo, and her daughter. Unathi was devastated when Mikkie passed away from pneumonia two years later. “I have only fond memories of my mother. She had a large influence on the person I am today.” Three years after his mother’s death, he met his father and paternal grandfather for the first time.

“I don’t know why my father came to meet me because after that he disappeared and I didn’t see him again until I was in my 20s. But I did manage to have a good relationship with my grandfather,” he says. Unathi’s granddad attended his ulwaluko (initiation) ceremony.

But, growing up, Unathi missed his dad. “I had a bad temper. I was always angry and I got into a lot of fights.” To help manage his emotions, he played rugby, took up boxing and also joined a local kwaito group in a bid to stay out of trouble.

“Sports and music really helped me to use my anger in a positive way,” he says.

After matriculating from Solomon Mahlangu High School in Mdantsane, Unathi did three years of a course in mechatronics at Buffalo City TVET College in East London but dropped out in his fourth year when he realised he wanted to be an entertainer and not an engineer. He knew Joburg would be the place to start his acting career, so in 2013 Unathi called a friend in the city to ask for a place to stay while he looked for a job. Then he packed his bags and headed north in search of fame and fortune.

“I found names of casting agencies and asked if I could join them. I got a few modelling gigs and some TV roles but the money wasn’t enough to pay my bills,” he says. That’s when he turned to selling dagga.

 Unathi says he’s been arrested more times than he chooses to count but he’s quick to point out his criminal days are over. “I’m not proud of some of the things I’ve done,” he says. “But today I can look back and say I’ve changed.”  Which is why he shares his story with SA’s youth when he can. Dream big, he tells them, but learn from your mistakes. “And never forget – anything is possible.”