Luyanda Mzazi on playing a sexual assault victim: 'What Lesedi feels is incredibly hard and heavy'
Luyanda Mzazi. (Photo: Onkgoptsi Koloti)
It wasn’t an easy part to play but she knew it was an
important one. Millions of people tune in to watch the show every day and tackling
issues that affect the country is a powerful way to raise awareness.
Sexual abuse is a major issue in South Africa. More than 40%
of rapes in the country are carried out on children, police minister Bheki Cele
announced in May last year, and at least 46 kids are raped in South Africa
So when Luyanda Mzazi found out her character, Lesedi, was
to be assaulted sexually in Generations: The Legacy, she armed herself with as
much knowledge as possible so she could do justice to the scene. The
22-year-old actress watched YouTube videos of rape survivors talking about
their experiences and read as much as she could about the scourge.
“It wasn’t easy,” she admits, “but I was glad to be part of
a storyline that shows what rape survivors endure before, during and after the
“What the show has done with Lesedi’s role is put her smack
in the middle of the real-life issues that girls and women face in South
Africa,” she says.
In the show, Lesedi wakes up one morning on a school trip
with her shirt unbuttoned and pants unzipped. The only person who could have
done this to her was her teacher, Mr Carlson (played by Clayton Boyd), who
walked her to her dorm room after she felt ill during outdoor activities. He
gave her some pills he claimed would make her feel better but she passed out
Mr Carlson didn’t return to the group while Lesedi was out
cold. Lesedi believes the teacher drugged her in order to take advantage of her
and she wants to stop him from doing something similar to her schoolmates.
Luyanda hasn’t been assaulted herself but knows someone who
“A girl in my circle of friends was sexually assaulted and I
remember the change in her behavior afterwards and the trauma she went through,
trying to deal with the after-effects.”
Educating people about what rape survivors go through is
important, the show’s producer, Mfundi Vundla, says.
“Women and girls are
targets of sexual harassment and sexual violence in private and public spaces.
As a platform that has great reach in South Africa, Generations: The Legacy has
a responsibility to add its voice against the scourge of rape and sexual
Luyanda hopes it will
make a difference too, though it was hard to act in that scene. She had to
immerse herself completely in the character as soon as the cameras started to
“I strip myself of me and become the character. So when you
see tears and all those intense emotions, it’s because that’s Lesedi. I feel
what she feels and go through what she goes through and it’s incredibly hard
and heavy, but I don’t overthink it because I don’t want to get depressed. But it’s
Playing Lesedi has opened Luyanda’s eyes, she says.
“Recently at work, this man hugged me and that was odd because we don’t have
that kind of relationship. What I found strange is that when he was letting go
of me his hands landed on my boobs. At first I brushed it off and thought maybe
it was accidental – but now that I think of it, he did that on purpose and it’s
sexual harassment, actually.”
Apart from raising awareness through her role, Luyanda is
also passionate about young people and their studies. She is a JAMbassador for
humanitarian organization Joint Aid Management SA (JAM).
Together with JAM and KFC, Luyanda helped pack food parcels
for needy children for Mandela Day.
“I partner with schools and find out what their students
need and get sponsorship for them. If the students at a school are not doing
well academically I talk to them and try to find out why – if the teachers are
the problem, then I speak to them as well,” Luyanda says.
Visiting schools is fun for the actress, who says it’s “weird”
seeing kids being star-struck at the sight of her.
“Once they get that out of the way we can discuss important
things concerning their future – they hear me and they aren’t shy to speak up
Luyanda herself still gets star struck on the Generations:
The Legacy set.
“Yoh, I remember when I first had to shoot a scene with
Getty (played by Andisiwe Dweba) – I couldn’t believe I was there. Even now
when a guest actor comes on set, I want to take selfies with them.”
As for the future, Luyanda is looking forward to other roles
on other shows too someday.
“I’ve watched Lesedi grow and go through a lot. I keep
ticking off experiences I want her to go through. So, after her, I want to play
a different role on a different show but I don’t want to play a schoolgirl
because if I have to wear another school uniform I’ll lose it!”
Clinical psychologist Stephen Molepo says TV storylines such
as the one about Lesedi’s sexual assault on Generations: The Legacy are “always
helpful and educational because people learn through seeing”.
He explains that because people sometimes don’t know how to
deal with sexual assault and rape – especially if the perpetrator is someone
who is trusted – helplines that are advertised or highlighted at the end of
episodes can be a godsend.
“Some people don’t even know such platforms exist,” Molepo
says. Storylines that highlight the stages sexual-assault survivors undergo can
give parents and guardians insight into signs and behavioural patterns because
now they know what they are, he adds.
“If the victims watch these shows too they also learn that
speaking out is very important.”