Actor Thabiso Mokhethi on how being a father has saved him
Thabiso Mokhethi and his daughter (Photo: Lubabalo Lesolle)
Johannesburg - Looking at him with his family it’s hard to believe he hit rock bottom and grappled with some dark demons before turning his life around.
Drug addiction, losing many of his loved ones and abusing his wife brought him to the brink of being a monster, he says – but the enduring love of his wife and kids pulled him back from the edge.
Former Generations star Thabiso Mokhethi found his purpose in life following the birth of his children, he tells us. The 36-year-old has brought his daughters, Thabisa (12) and Thato (4), as well as son Thabo (8) to a photoshoot at 84 on Fourth guesthouse in Melville.
He loves being a dad and a husband to Gaaratwe, his wife of nearly 10 years, he shares.
“It gives me such a great sense of belonging. My children made me fall in love with myself.”
There are many absent fathers in black communities, he adds, and he wants his children to know he’ll always be there for them.
“I no longer just work to be seen. When I get that pay cheque I know what I’m going to do. When I’m saving, I know what I’m doing it for. It’s no longer about me wanting a fancy car and a flashy apartment. Things have order in my life and it’s mainly because of my children.”
He clearly remembers the day he found out his then-girlfriend Gaaratwe was pregnant with their first child. He’d talk to her belly and tell his unborn daughter how much he was looking forward to her arrival.
“It was no longer just me and Gaaratwe anymore – we had a third person in our life,” he says. “By the time the baby came I knew the price of nappies and how to change them. I had to grow up and learn about all sorts of things.”
Losing all the members of his immediate family has contributed to his tight bond with his children, he believes. His father, Dally, died in 1999 while his mother, Xoli , and brother Tshepo, lost their lives in a car accident in 2013.
“With each death it felt like I was losing a piece of myself,” he says.
“But now I have my wife and kids and this family I’ve created fills every void I’ve ever felt.
“Children and family give you a feeling of belonging. There was a time when I was working and I had money but I was unhappy because of loss. I’ve truly learnt when people say there are things money can’t buy, family and children are what they’re talking about.”
It took years of pain before he found happiness, Thabiso says. He’s a reformed abuser and he’s not afraid to speak out about it, especially as South Africa faces a scourge of violence against women. He currently plays Musa on e.tv’s Rhythm City, a dodgy character who comes across as sweet. Musa has little regard for women and he could’ve been that guy, Thabiso admits. When his mother and brother died he fell into a deep depression, which led to the darkest time of his life. He began to physically abuse Gaaratwe (33) in 2014 and the couple separated.
“When life’s challenges came, I had no idea how to deal with them.”
He knew he was in trouble and needed help. He went to therapy and slowly began to heal, and it wasn’t long before the couple reunited. “He was lost during that time and it wasn’t who he really is,” Gaaratwe says.
“Separating from him was the most difficult thing I’ve ever done but him doing the necessary things, like therapy, was the sign I needed to know I hadn’t lost the real him.”
Their relationship is now stronger than ever and the lessons he learnt during that time have helped Thabiso become a better partner for his wife.
“The most important thing was for me to learn from my mistakes, become a better husband, a better father and a better version of myself.”
The couple have known each other since they were children. They started dating in 2004 and married in 2009. “I couldn’t get her out of my mind,” Thabiso says of the early stages of their relationship.
“I’d dated before but there has never been anyone who’s looked at me the way MaThabo does. No one has ever cared for me the way she does. She accepted me for who I am.”
Gaaratwe was there for him when he lost his beloved grandmother, Letta Safia, in 2004.
“She knew what to say, how to hold me and how to love me. Loving her came so naturally. My first instinct now is to love, protect, provide and be with her.”
Thabiso fell in love with acting when he was in rehab for drug abuse as a teenager. He started using drugs in high school to fit in, he says, and his family sent him to the Sanca Horizon Centre in Boksburg, Joburg, for treatment.
He watched a lot of TV during that time, which sparked an interest in acting.
“I started following the career paths of Morris Chestnut and Dini Nondumo to see what they were doing and how I could incorporate acting into my life.”
Acting was in his blood too. His father had a part on local drama Hlala Kwabafileyo before quitting the business to become a banker. After leaving rehab, Thabiso took acting classes with industry veteran Dorothy Ann Gould at the Actors Centre in Joburg to learn the ins and outs of the trade. He got his first big role presenting the kiddies’ show Thabang Thabong in 2003 and has since appeared on Generations, 7de Laan and Rhythm City. He has enjoyed all his roles but nothing comes even close to the fulfilment he gets from being a father. His kids constantly amaze and surprise him, he says.
“They’ve changed my view of life. I’ve become an even happier person because of them. More relaxed and more fun.”
Thabiso wants his children to see him as the best father they could’ve asked for and makes sure he spends as much time with them as possible.
“I invest my energy in my family and because I’m not in a nine-to-five industry I’m able to go to their sports events and school plays. I’ve had to learn as I go along how to be a father because my dad is no longer here to help me and show me how it’s done.
“But I’ve taken what I remember about my father and how he parented me and I try to replicate that with my children.” God has been good to him and his family, Thabiso says.
“He has come through in ways I can’t explain. Through God’s grace, I’m always able to find work. And when I get a job, I strive to give it my best.” But his top priorities are his wife and the three little people who’ve taught him just how important it is to be a good man.