The Sunday News
Bruce Ndlovu, Sunday Life Reporter
FIVE years after she was last on stage, Zimbabwean actress Chi Mhende is once again making waves on the theatre scene, after taking up a role in South African theatre doyen Paul Slabolepszy’s new production, Fordsburg Finest.
Mhende’s career has grown in leaps and bounds south of the Limpopo, where she first caught the eye on SABC1’s Generations: The Legacy, playing Wandile Radebe, a transgender woman.
Since then, Mhende has continued to scale new heights, appearing on high profile theatre productions while making an appearance on Queen Sono, Netflix’s debut production in Africa.
She also clinched a directorial role on Generations, the show that gave her the much-needed big break in Mzansi television.
Despite this, Mhende recently told a South African publication that she had rediscovered the magic of theatre, after she was courted by Slabolepszy.
Born in England and brought to live in SA at the age of three, Slabolepszy has appeared in over 250 stage and television plays and films, most recently for the BBC in Rhodes and Apprenticeship of a Mahatma.
He has numerous acting awards, and for his role as Eddie in his own play The Return of Elvis du Pisanie, he was the first actor in the country to win three best actor awards across the country.
“I’m back on stage, for the first time since 2017 and coming from television and film, I am reminded of how magical the theatre space is,” said the Zimbabwe-born star.
“I was on Generations until 2019. Then I worked on Queen Sono in 2020.
Then I directed at Generations for the past two years, and I wasn’t acting at all.
“I went back to Zimbabwe at the beginning of this year to work on a film. And while there, I got a call from Paul Slabolepszy and here I am today, back on stage again,” she said.
In Fordsburg’s Finest, Mhende plays Thandeka, an empowered and impassioned woman returning to South Africa after apartheid enforced exile in the United States.
“Thandeka is a young woman who works as a librarian in New York and she is a South African American who, for some time has been wanting to connect with her roots.
“When we find her at the start of this play, that is exactly what she has come to do.
I won’t give away too much, let the people come and experience it.
This is the story of two strangers who find themselves through other people, which I think has been, and should be, a life lesson, and life journey,” Mhende said.
Mhende said the production was a lesson in enriching one’s stay on earth through constant self-education.
“… ZiFM’s station manager shared a motivation quote, which speaks about the importance of continuing to educate oneself.
And this doesn’t mean spending money on a university degree, it can be something as simple as stepping outside your comfort zone, walking across the street to go and talk to a man or a woman you’ve never spoken to before.
“Young people speak to old people, black people speak to white people because it is in that learning, that you can broaden. And the next step is that you realise you knew nothing at all.
And when you come to that realisation, it’s a beautiful place because then you can continue. And that’s what life is about,” she said.
Mhende also described the production as a story of healing and hope, which will unravel South Africa’s sometimes painful history.
“I think audiences are going to enjoy this play because we’re calling it a period piece, for it is set in 1996 in what would have been a two-year-old democratic South Africa. And today she’s 28 years old.
“Looking back, South Africans are going to celebrate how far she’s come. Some elements in the story were written in 1996 but can still be heard on the streets today. And that will shock audiences to know that 28 years later, some things have not changed.
And the one thing that is going to bind us as a nation is that you’re going to have an audience that is 35 years apart. People are also going to enjoy seeing the freshness of live theatre,” she said.
Fordsburg’s Finest, which made its debut at Cape Town’s Theatre of the Bay in September, will be showing at the Pieter Toerien, in Montecasino, Joburg, until 9 October.