Mlamli Mangcala’s sur­pris­ing dou­ble life

Ac­tor and ra­dio­g­ra­pher Mlamli Mangcala tells DRUM why he could never choose be­tween his love for act­ing and his de­ter­mi­na­tion to help oth­ers

DRUM - - Contents - BY QHAMA DAYILE PIC­TURE: ONKGOPOTSE KOLOTI

HE CUTS a smart fig­ure in im­mac­u­lately ironed trousers and a crisp shirt – worlds away from the cow­ardly and di­shev­elled cop he plays on TV.

In fact, Mlaml i Mangcala is so dif­fer­ent to Cap­tain Radebe on Mzansi Magic’s The Queen it’s hard to be­lieve he slips so eas­ily into the rum­pled char­ac­ter view­ers love so much.

But it’s no ef­fort play­ing the be­wil­dered cap­tain, he tells us, be­cause he has the ideal role model to re­fer to.

He bor­rows all the cop’s quirky ges­tures, nu­ances and speech pat­terns from his late Un­cle Fik­ile.

“My un­cle was hi­lar­i­ous,” Mlamli says. “He had a lot to say and when he en­tered the room you’d think he’s some­one im­por­tant – but he was just a fool!”

The role of Cap­tain Radebe was ini­tially in­tended as a one-off ap­pear­ance in 2016, but the guy was such a hit with view­ers the bosses knew they needed to make the part per­ma­nent.

And Mlamli (44) is hardly com­plain­ing. “I re­ally en­joy play­ing the guy be­cause I get to re­live my un­cle’s life. I sit and think of how he would re­act in cer­tain sit­u­a­tions and bring him back to life.”

Mlamli, who started his act­ing ca­reer play­ing a cop in the Xhosa drama se­ries Unyana Wom­ntu while he was in Grade 11, has played a string of di­verse char­ac­ters – from the slimy Ger­man Jale al­ways blinged up with gold watches and rings on 90 Plein Street to Lazarus on the drama In­ter­sex­ions and Nt­sumpa in the se­ries Matatiele.

But act­ing isn’t all Mlamli does for a liv­ing – he’s also a qualif ied di­ag­nos­tic ra­dio­g­ra­pher and owns Mlamli Di­ag­nos­tics in Khayel i t sha , Cape Town.

“My jour­ney has been long and hard but it’s been worth it,” he says.

MLAMLI comes from the town of Ash­ton in the Western Cape, a tiny, poverty- plagued place he de­scribes as “more of a farm than a town”.

“Every­one is poor there but my fam­ily was the poor­est of all. When I was grow­ing up I vowed to get a qual­i­fi­ca­tion be­cause where I come from the big­gest achieve­ment you could get was not to smoke.”

Many of the town’s res­i­dents re­lied on sea­sonal work at a fruit can­ning fac­tory and would of­ten find them­selves job­less be­tween Fe­bru­ary and Novem­ber when the apri­cot sea­son ended.

Mlamli is the fourth of five

chil­dren. His mother, Maki Som­dala Mkheth­wane, worked as a nanny in Paarl and his late fa­ther, Mzin­gisi Mangcala, was a farm worker.

Af t er hi s par­ent s di­vorced in 1980 he was raised by his ma­ter­nal grand­mother, Mtiti.

His mom would re­turn to Ash­ton dur­ing the apri­cot sea­son to work in the fruit fac­tory. “My mom would of­ten send us money for school and food,” he re­calls.

Mlamli lived in a two-be­d­room house with eight rel­a­tives and was de­ter­mined to break what he calls “the curse of poverty”. Con­vinced that ed­u­ca­tion was the way to go, he did odd jobs on week­ends to pay for his school fees.

Mlamli was good at writ­ing po­etry and en­joyed tak­ing part in school plays and pub­lic speak­ing. One of his big­gest sup­port­ers was his cousin, vet­eran ac­tress Amanda Quwe, who helped with his school fees and “be­lieved in me”.

The school in Ash­ton only went up to Grade 10 so Mlamli moved to Khayelit­sha and en­rolled at Matthew Goniwe Memo­rial High School.

“I couldn’t af­ford a train ticket so I surfed the train to get to school,” he re­calls.

He per­se­vered though, work­ing as a su­per­mar­ket packer and a petrol at­ten­dant at week­ends to pay his fees and put food in his belly. He also took on the oc­ca­sional MC job and landed his first act­ing role in Unyana Wom­ntu. Mlamli went for au­di­tions af­ter that but usu­ally left empty-handed.

“Luck­ily I had re­ally great older friends who worked in fac­to­ries and they would bail me out when I was re­ally broke,” he says. Af­ter ma­tric­u­lat­ing in 1996 Mlamli hung around the town­ship with no plans to study. “My life was a big hus­tle within the com­mu­nity and at school. I was an av­er­age stu­dent, so I didn’t pass ma­tric well.”

AF­TER seven years of un­cer­tainty and odd jobs a friend sug­gested he write some of his ma­tric sub­jects again at Head­start Col­lege. He heeded the ad­vice, stud­ied hard and, with his im­proved re­sults, was ac­cepted to study me­chan­i­cal en­gi­neer­ing at Cape Penin­sula Uni­ver­sity of Tech­nol­ogy (CPUT).

But with­out ca­reer guid­ance he couldn’t de­cide if he wanted to stick with me­chan­i­cal en­gi­neer­ing or switch to study­ing medicine.

An­other friend sug­gested he join the Ac­cess Pro­gramme at CPUT for stu­dents who wanted to im­prove their marks and en­ter dif­fer­ent fields of study.

“I joined the pro­gramme be­cause I’d de­cided I wanted to do medicine, but I couldn’t af­ford the tu­ition so the next best course was ra­di­og­ra­phy.”

He fell in love with the course, but it was also a bless­ing that ra­di­og­ra­phy stu­dents at that time were paid a monthly R2 000 stipend.

The money was a great boost for his fam­ily and helped his mother build a de­cent fam­ily home in Ash­ton. When Mlamli’s dad died in 1998 the money he earned also helped pay for the burial.

Life was good un­til his fi­nal year when Mlamli had “an al­ter­ca­tion”, as he calls it, with a lec­turer who he claims failed him on pur­pose.

“The lec­turer was out to make my life dif­fi­cult and didn’t want me to grad­u­ate. I packed my bags and left for Eng­land.”

His friends helped him with money for the flights. In Eng­land he lived with a fam­ily friend un­til he found his feet and got a job as an in­tern, then as an as­sis­tant ra­dio­g­ra­pher.

“I was trained in Eng­land to use the lithotripsy ma­chine to re­move kid­ney stones, to treat erec­tile dys­func­tion and con­di­tions like ten­nis el­bow and other sports in­juries.”

But five years later he had to re­turn home when a job in Eng­land he’d ap­plied for – which in­cluded a bur­sary to fin­ish his stud­ies – fell through be­cause of a bad re­port they re­ceived from CPUT.

So he came home and set up a meet­ing with the dean at his old cam­pus, who took pity on him and helped him com­plete his course – and Mlamli fi­nally achieved his dream when he grad­u­ated with a na­tional di­ploma in di­ag­nos­tic ra­di­og­ra­phy.

Mean­while, Mlamli started go­ing to au­di­tions but says he never con­sid­ered quit­ting ra­di­og­ra­phy for act­ing as he’s pas­sion­ate about both ca­reers, es­pe­cially as he can help peo­ple from dis­ad­van­taged back­grounds as a ra­dio­g­ra­pher.

Mlamli, who’s mar­ried to Tho­tyelwa Mangcala (38) and is a fa­ther to Iy­a­sithanda (10) and Uvile (6), is grate­ful he can jug­gle both ca­reers and make a dif­fer­ence at the same time.

“I love both my jobs,” he says. “And I’m gifted at them both too.”

‘I love both my jobs and I’m gifted at both’

LEFT and RIGHT: Mlamli Mangcala plays Cap­tain Radebe on Mzansi Magic’s pop­u­lar drama se­ries The Queen. BE­LOW LEFT: His cousin, vet­eran ac­tress Amanda Quwe, was in­stru­men­tal in mo­ti­vat­ing the ac­tor and ra­dio­g­ra­pher to fin­ish school andstudy fur­ther.

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