Move! - - SOUTH AFRICA - by Tshep­iso Makhele

SHE was 16 years old when she was stopped by vet­eran writer, di­rec­tor and theatre pro­ducer Mbon­geni Ngema on the streets of Um­lazi in KwaZulu-Natal and told she has the po­ten­tial to be on stage and act. Doubt­ful of these words, Baby Cele didn’t think it would ever hap­pen.


Then, in 1986, Mbon­geni and his first wife Xo­lile paid Baby's par­ents a visit to ask if the pro­ducer could take their child with him to Johannesbu­rg and New York, to help her with her act­ing ca­reer.

At this point, all Baby knew was that she was go­ing to be on stage, and thought lit­tle about the jour­ney that lay ahead; in­clud­ing an abu­sive mar­riage, heart­break, joy and an an­ces­tral call­ing.


Though Baby says her ca­reer didn't have a lot of chal­lenges that she can tell sto­ries about, the 44-year- old ac­tor says her an­ces­tral call­ing to be­come a san­goma put a strain on her ca­reer and re­la­tion­ships. “I'm grate­ful that I ad­hered to my call­ing and re­spected it. I learned a lot about my­self and where I come from,” she says. Her call­ing also made peo­ple look and treat her dif­fer­ently.

“When­ever I went to au­di­tion, peo­ple would think I have muthi on me. That was also the per­cep­tion when it came to re­la­tion­ships, but it doesn't bother me any­more.”

Baby says obey­ing her call­ing and go­ing for train­ing helped clear a lot of is­sues for her and her fam­ily. Even though she is not a prac­tic­ing tra­di­tional healer, she is still a san­goma.

“If you have idlozi, you have it. You can't ig­nore that,” she says.

“I still say my prayers and burn im­phepho (in­cense) to ap­pease the an­ces­tors. I'm just glad that my call­ing didn't force me to quit my act­ing job.”


In 2009, Baby got mar­ried to Mandla Mabuza. The two couldn't have looked hap­pier at their tra­di­tional um­abo cer­e­mony, held at Baby's home in Um­lazi, Dur­ban.

How­ever, their mar­riage was short-lived and she is now a sin­gle mother to 16-year- old Yolisa, and five-year- old Than­dol­wethu. This was Baby's

sec­ond mar­riage as she had been mar­ried at a young age and got di­vorced. “Get­ting mar­ried at an early age was hard and it ex­posed me to abuse as well,” she says. “I felt that I was con­stantly made to feel like I’m not worth much. But with time you learn through it all.

“Such a mar­riage can make you not trust even the good men. It can make you push true love away, but nonethe­less it built me.”

Baby says de­spite her mar­riages not work­ing out, she is grate­ful to have two chil­dren who have taught her to give and for­give.


“I had my last born at the age of 39. It was a scary ex­pe­ri­ence and at five months, I was hos­pi­talised be­cause of com­pli­ca­tions,” she says.

Baby ex­plains that she couldn’t hold her child af­ter giv­ing birth.

“I was so scared. I won­dered if I was go­ing to be a good mother and if I would love her too much. I was scared that I would love my child more than I love God.”

She says noth­ing makes her sad like women who want to have ba­bies but aren’t fer­tile.

“Peo­ple tell me that I shouldn’t only fo­cus on my chil­dren be­cause they will grow up and leave me, but I can’t let go,” she says.


The ac­tress says be­ing in the en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try is chal­leng­ing and few peo­ple un­der­stand this. She adds that as an ac­tress, you might have a job to­day and be un­em­ployed to­mor­row.

“The prob­lem is that only a few cast­ing di­rec­tors get the job right,” she says. “Nowa­days, be­ing an ac­tor is de­ter­mined by your weight, how well you speak English and how beau­ti­ful they per­ceive you to be. You hardly see tal­ent.

“It’s more about how many fol­low­ers you have on Twit­ter. It’s showbiz; it’s more about the num­bers,” she says. As test­ing as the act­ing in­dus­try is, Baby says there are still some celebri­ties who burn their bridges and end up not get­ting roles, as peo­ple in pro­duc­tion com­pa­nies talk and know each other.

“Back- chat­ting to man­age­ment, late com­ing and be­ing de­mand­ing and dif­fi­cult work against you as an ac­tor,” says Baby. “If pro­duc­ers like you, you will find a job and they will rec­om­mend you.”

Baby says to keep her act­ing ca­reer safe and her im­age far from tabloid drama, she hardly goes out and has made her two chil­dren her best friends. “I re­spect my job and I re­spect jour­nal­ists that is why I don’t be­friend them. Peo­ple al­ways want to be friends with jour­nal­ists and then they won­der why their sto­ries be­come public knowl­edge, for­get­ting that the jour­nal­ists was only do­ing their job.”



Baby had hoped that mov­ing to Johannesbu­rg at the age of 16 to chase a ca­reer she never dreamed of would help her earn a liv­ing. She also be­lieved that it would be okay to let go of her dream to be­come a soldier or so­cial worker.

But act­ing does not pay that well. She says, “It’s sad to think that ac­tors are still not earn­ing bet­ter money. The in­dus­try is go­ing down. TV chan­nel Mzansi Magic is try­ing to cre­ate jobs but there is no money and it’s low bud­get pro­duc­tions. The gov­ern­ment should take the in­dus­try se­ri­ously.”

Baby says with her vast ex­pe­ri­ence in theatre and tele­vi­sion, and fea­tur­ing in dra­mas and com­edy se­ries; she would like to act as Win­nie Man­dela one day.

She says, “Win­nie has been through a lot. She is a strong woman. Play­ing her would chal­lenge me and re­quire me to fo­cus and do my re­search.” M

Ac­tress Baby Cele is one of South Africa's most gifted ac­tresses. She has graced many threatre pro­duc­tions and starred in var­i­ous lo­cal dra­mas and films. She cur­rently stars as Gasta Cele on Mzansi Magic's Zabalaza

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