Zakhele Mabaso chats to us about growing up in Alaxandra and his role as Skhaleni

Why did you decide to join Isibaya?

I got a call from the producer, Angus Gibson, whom I’d met while working in theatre and on Yizo Yizo. He explained that Isibaya was something new and unique, and that he thought I should audition. Initially he had two roles in mind for me, but I auditioned for Skhaleni and that was that.

What has your Isibaya experience been like?

Getting any role, big or small, is very exciting, but I must admit that I was a bit worried about the longevity of the role in the beginning. I didn’t take for granted that I’d been blessed with the opportunity to portray such a character. I worked very hard to build the character and, most importantly, to make him relatable to viewers.

Working with the cast has been absolutely lovely. In order for us to grow our characters and take our acting careers forward, we need to love, respect and support each other, which we do on a daily basis – we’re like family.

Have you always loved acting?

I’ve always been a performer at heart. At school I participated in acting, dancing and music classes or shows – anything to do with the performing arts. Every time I performed, it was further confirmation that this was my calling.

The defining moment for me, however, came when I was part of a group of students who performed for M-Net at what was then called Red Nose Day. I realised I had talent that day and I’ve never taken it for granted, I’ve dedicated myself to honing my craft and becoming a success.

We’d love to hear a little about your upbringing…

I was born and raised in Alexandra, Johannesburg. I’m the fourth of six siblings and we were raised by our grandmother, who had 10 children. Our aunts and uncles all had their own children, and there were more than 40 of us living in one house!

Alex was a very materialistic society then, and if you didn’t have certain things or money, you were immediately excluded from certain groups. This often lead to people resorting to crime and, as a result, some of my friends ended up in jail and others died. Knowing that I had a calling and that I’d succeed kept me grounded.

What is your biggest professional challenge?

This industry is very unpredictable. The producers and writers are the only ones who decide what happens to each character, so I could easily wake up tomorrow and discover that Skhaleni’s character will be phased out in a month. As actors, we’re blessed to be able to do what we love, but you never really know where you’ll end up.

But despite the uncertainty, you have to keep your chin up no matter what and make a plan because the industry is about hustling after all.

What do you love most about portraying Skhaleni?

Portraying Skhaleni gives me the challenge of depicting reality. Most black South Africans can relate to his character because they know someone who behaves like Skhaleni and, most importantly, have taken taxis at some point.

At first I thought people would dislike the character because of the perception many have about taxi drivers – and rightfully so. But to my surprise, people love Skhaleni. Perhaps it’s because he’s genuine and has a good heart, which is one of the things I love about portraying him.

What are the most valuable life lessons you’ve learnt?

Work hard and never give up.
Remember that you can learn from every type and calibre of person. I’ve spent time with people who are mentally ill, in prison, etc in order to gain a better understanding of their thoughts and lives. Everyone can teach us something.
Respect everyone, even those who push trolleys, sweep floors and clean toilets. Remember that they’re working hard to provide for their families.
Don’t judge. Everyone makes mistakes and deserves a second chance