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Luyanda Mzazi on playing a sexual assault victim: 'What Lesedi feels is incredibly hard and heavy'

2019-03-15 15:10
Luyanda Mzazi. (Photo: Onkgoptsi Koloti)
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 every day.

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 assault.

“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 moments later.

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 has been.

“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 violence.”

 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 roll.

“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 still painful.”

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 too.”

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!”

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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.”