UP CLOSE WITH ZABALAZA’S BABY CELE
‘GETTING MARRIED YOUNG EXPOSED ME TO ABUSE’
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.
OFF TO THE BIG CITY
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.
PLEASING THE ANCESTORS
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.”
I HAD MY LAST BORN AT THE AGE OF 39. IT WAS A SCARY EXPERIENCE
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