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

(Turn over)

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.

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