Kani unearths a rare gem in young actress
SHE RECENTLY touched the hearts of mourners when she spoke at her grandmother’s funeral in Vryburg, North West. The young woman with the film-star looks spoke passionately about the special bond she shared with ANC stalwart Ruth Mompati.
Few could have suspected she is one of the rising stars of South African theatre and an aspiring Hollywood actress.
Buhle Ngaba is starring in Missing at the State Theatre, alongside veterans John Kani and Susan Danford. It is a romantic political thriller about Robert Khalipa (Kani), a returning exile who is forced to redefine his notion of home, his Swedish wife, Anna Olson (Susan Danford), and their daughter Ayanda (Ngaba).
Only in her mid-twenties, she is the youngest actress to have starred with revered thespian Kani.
This adoration for Kani was evident during the play’s opening on June 5, when the cast enjoyed thunderous standing ovations.
The veteran of South African classics such as Master Harold & the Boys, Saturday Night at the Palace and The Native Who Caused All the Trouble was under no illusion that in Ngaba he had unearthed a very rare gem.
“It’s unusual to identify a young and promising talent with such a spark in her.
“She has all the hallmarks of a great actress, if she remains levelheaded,” he observes. She would need “passion, hunger to learn and to take her roles with exceptional seriousness”.
Kani remembers how he was struck by her “mix-race” looks and acting talent during auditions for Missing.
“She is perfect for the role of a mix-race couple like Anna and Robert. But what most people don’t know about her is that she is an amazing singer as well.”
Interestingly, Kani says he only discovered that Ngaba was related to Mompati when she attended the opening night of Missing at the Baxter Theatre in Cape Town last year.
“For 15 years, I have been on the council of presidential awards (orders) with ‘Madame Rute”, as we called her, but I wouldn’t have suspected they were related. From this I concluded that she is a humble, strong and independent person, who wanted to succeed and be judged by her abilities – not family links.”
Missing is a hard-hitting commentary on South Africa’s political climate. For Ngaba it is not just another production.
“This is clear by the overwhelming responses we receive from audiences every night. It is incredible to be in a play that encourages conversations about the state of the nation. Theatre should encourage debate. Missing does that in a special way.”
She describes her character Ayanda as honest, intelligent, independent, articulate and hot-headed.
“I don’t share Ayanda’s temper but she represents the disillusionment of youth in a new South Africa. The country that Ayanda was promised by her father Robert Khalipa is not what she found when she arrived.
“He assured her that she would immediately feel at home in South Africa but that was not to be. So, she is led to question where ‘home’ is for her.”
And what about Ngaba’s illustrious costars, including Apollo Ntshoko (Peter Tshabalala, Robert’s young comrade)?
“What I enjoy about performing with them is the continuous opportunity to learn and grow. They challenge and nurture my acting skills and inspire me to tell Ayanda’s story to the best of my abilities.”
A drama graduate of Rhodes and Leeds University in England, Ngaba’s professional theatrical debut was in Rob Murray’s A Conspiracy of Clowns (2012), a role she regards as her best stage training. The role of Mrs Lyons in David Kramer’s Blood Brothers (2013) was a highlight as it marked her introduction to musical theatre. It was during its run that Kani discovered her.
Ngaba says her family in Vryburg encouraged her creativity.
“I was an inquisitive and talkative little girl. My family bought me books on music and drama to stimulate my curiosity. They would also endure hours of watching my make-believe stories – with music and costumes – in our lounge.
“The women in my family are all very strong and determined. Through them, I learnt to be relentless in pursuit of my dreams, to work incredibly hard and to do it all in style and with integrity. We are a proud and close-knit family.”
The actress is working on a play based on her family, notably her formidable grandmother.
“There aren’t many roles written for young black females, so I am determined to write my own. I am not interested in having other people speak for me when I have my own voice.”
She is also running drama workshops for schoolchildren in North West, while working on her dream of being a film star.
“Expect to see me on your screens soon,” Ngaba says.
Missing is written by John Kani and directed by Janice Honeyman. It runs until Saturday.
EXPRESSIVE: Acclaimed thespian John Kani stars in Missing with up-and-coming actress Buhle Ngaba and Susan Danford.