Manaka Ranaka remembers Iko Mash
Manaka Ranaka shares the heartache of losing best friend Iko Mash and opens up about living with the guilt of a car crash that killed a teen two years ago
LIFE has been unkind to her in recent years. Two years ago a car crash that claimed the life of a teenager changed her life irrevocably. Actress Manaka Ranaka ( 38) was behind the wheel and has been riddled with guilt and remorse since. She found solace in her best friend, celebrity make-up artist Iko Mash (42). But then she too suddenly passed away in July (Farewell, bright star, 3 August), leaving Manaka alone and mired in sad memories.
“I woke up this morning thinking of her and missing her terribly, only to find her tombstone is ready,” Manaka says.
The tombstone head was unveiled shortly after the funeral in July. Manaka was involved in its design, which includes Iko’s birthname, Billy Mathola Emmanuel Mashiloane, and her stage name, Iko Mash.
“She was a friend for life,” Manaka says of the woman she looked after until her death.
“There’s nothing special about me caring for my best friend on her deathbed. It’s not the first time it’s happened and it is not the last either,” she says in response to those who lauded her as a saint on social media for taking care of Iko when she was ill.
“If people think friendship is about the good times only, what kind of friends do they keep? It made me angry that people were mesmerised by the fact I cared for my sick friend. I didn’t know people were this mean that they would discard their friend in times of need.”
Manaka says Iko came to live in the house where she was renting a room in Leondale because Iko couldn’t afford the rent on her place in the north of Joburg anymore.
“It was a place I rented to study in because it gets noisy with all the children at home [her daughters, KG (16) and Naledi (8), and her sister Dineo’s kids, a 7-year-old boy and 4-year-old girl]. I converted the space into a man cave.
“Iko wasn’t comfy at first because it’s a house with many rooms outside. Many guys lived there and she was scared they could be homophobic. But after a week she was at home.”
THEY met about 15 years ago on the set of SABC1’s Gaz’lam. Iko had a mesmerising presence that captured Manaka, and they became friends. But their friendship was strained when they worked together again on the set of Tshisa where Manaka played Vinolia Ntuli. “Something happened at Tshisa that made her not talk to me,” Manaka recalls.
“I didn’t even know what she was angry about. It apparently had something to do with a guy,” Manaka says with a laugh.
The friends managed to work things out. “I was so persistent she had to let it go. I don’t know if it’s God’s way, but we were meant to be friends.”
They’d known each other for more than a decade but only became best friends four years ago.
“I was able to calm her and bring her down to Mother Earth. Iko only later realised that getting sucked into the hype of celebrity status is not all it’s cracked up to be and she didn’t have to attend every party because there’s more to life than being a celebrity. When she got to realise it, it was too late.”
She first noticed something was wrong with her BFF after noticing a growth on Iko’s neck about four months ago. Manaka accompanied her to a hospital for blood tests. Doctors later diagnosed Iko with lymphoma (cancer of the lymph nodes).
She watched helplessly as the illness also took its toll on her friend. Where she once shared everything with Manaka, Iko started to become distant.
“I got so irritated by her. She wasn’t saying what she needed to say. I felt angry because I thought she was bottling things up, but then I heard she was speaking to other friends and I felt better.
“It was important for her to offload and it didn’t have to be on me,” Manaka explains.
The stress of it all caused her to have huge fights with loved ones, she adds. But those around her understood what she was going through and hoped Iko would heal fully.
Things started looking up when Iko started treatment. “It took a while to get her onto chemotherapy and when it finally happened that big thing shrunk significantly after the first treatment. We went again the next day and it was gone. We were so excited.”
The excitement quickly turned to anguish when Iko passed away a month after her chemotherapy sessions.
“I later realised chemo fooled us. It was eating away at the growth and the same time it was eating away at Iko,” says Manaka as tears well up.
She hates to show weakness, she says through the tears, and she doesn’t like being pitied, which is why she’s refused to speak to the media about the death of her dear friend.
She’s opening up now because she needed time to process Iko’s death on her own. “I will never get over Iko’s death, but I feel better about talking about it now. If I talked about it then I wouldn’t have been able to speak properly because I would’ve been crying throughout. I also feel it’s my responsibility to create awareness around cancer.”
MANAKA will never forget the last meal she prepared for and fed Iko. Iko had asked Manaka to make her ting or sour porridge, but she didn’t have the strength to feed herself and it was hard for her to swallow because the cancer had caused her mouth to be riddled with ulcers.
“Another friend bathed her,” Manaka recalls. She says everyone prayed for Iko. “If it’s true that You are a God of miracles, You will help her get better or take
her. She’s in so much pain. Make her better, give her strength,” she recalls praying.
The next morning Iko’s mom came to wake her up to call an ambulance. When she went in to see Iko, she looked weak.
“The last words she spoke were: ‘Yoh, I’m dying’. I yelled at her: ‘What are you going to say to [the late] Koyo [Bala, who was in the band 3Sum]? You can’t leave now!’” But Iko was too weak to fight. “She dropped down on the floor and blinked slowly while her mom wiped her mouth. “‘ Tsala (friend)’, I said as I was shaking her. She looked like she would fall over. It was the worst.”
Four months after being diagnosed with lymphoma, Iko lost her battle.
There isn’t a day she doesn’t think about Iko, Manaka says. “I can smell her, I literally smell her right now. She plays tricks on me.”
DEALING with death has brought back an old hurt. Two years ago in December, Manaka accidentally killed 17-year-old Millicent Mbonani. Losing Iko reopened the wound of Millicent’s death. “What holds me back is reliving the pain. December isn’t a time to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ anymore. Jesus is taking a back seat for now, but I’m sure He understands.”
Instead she spends the festive season celebrating Millicent’s life.
“She was really clever and she a bright future ahead of her. She just completed matric with a couple of distinctions.”
On that fateful afternoon that connected her with Millicent forever, Manaka was on her way to a shop when her car veered into the teen, who’d been jaywalking.
“What messes me up is that she was a fan of mine. She had loads of pictures of me on her phone. I expected her to keep photos of Rihanna, not me.”
Manaka still struggles to live with herself knowing she’s taken a life. “I can’t go skipping about without that voice reminding me I killed someone. The fact is I killed someone.”
She plans to go into therapy with Millicent and Iko’s moms at an organisation that specialises in therapy for family and friends to help them all deal with the loss of their loved ones.
In the midst of all the misery, Manaka has found love again after a public breakup with her ex, IT specialist Thabo “Touch” Monareng.
“I closed that chapter in January and I moved on. He wasn’t appreciative of me. It is what it is,” she says.
She’s happier now with her new man. “For the first time I feel a sense of belonging. I relate to Jennifer Hudson’s song Giving Myself, especially these lyrics: ‘For the first time I can stand in front of someone/Finally I can be me/I can just let my love spill over/I can cry/I don’t have to lie/I can finally let someone all the way inside’.”
Her boyfriend, who she declines to name, has been a pillar of support through Iko’s death and the feelings it triggered.
“I’ve never fought with my man like I did when Iko died, but thank God he understands. He’s been through a similar experience as I have,” she explains.
“He knows what I’m going through. I really appreciate his presence.”
She’s been unlucky in life and love so Manaka hopes this romance will be more than fleeting.
She’s comforted by the blessing Iko gave her new relationship before she passed away.
“She said: ‘ Tsala, he’s the one’,” she recalls. “She was a good judge of character and she was right more often than not.”
ABOVE: The late Iko Mash and Manaka Ranaka were best friends. The Generations actress cared for the celeb make-up artist during her last days.
ABOVE: After the storms came a rainbow – Manaka has found love again, but is keeping this relationship under wraps. ABOVE RIGHT: The actress says Iko gave her romance a thumbs-up.