5 minutes with Bongile Mantsai

Bongile Mantsai

Award-winning actor Bongile Mantsai chats to Kwanele Mathebula about working in theatre, sharing his passion for the arts with his community and being on Scandal!.

My musical background introduced me to theatre. I grew up in the small township of Kayamnandi in Stellenbosch, Western Cape. I come from a Christian upbringing. My father was a pastor, and my siblings and I formed a brass band where I played the trumpet. Writing music for acappella gospel and teaching other choirs to write introduced me to the directors at Stellenbosch University (SU). They would often come to my community, looking for singers and background actors for the plays they directed at the university.

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After matriculating in 1998, I wanted to study drama. Back then, SU only taught in Afrikaans. So, I couldn’t apply because I did not speak the language. But because I wanted to study drama, I approached the directors and expressed my desire to attend their lectures. I ended up joining their physical theatre. This consisted of body movement and language classes; it allowed me to perform in the university’s productions. In 1999 while working professionally as a performer, I decided to use my presence at the university to benefit my community by forming a drama group. I started to write stories in my language,
Xhosa, with the assistance of my colleagues.

Since the beginning of my career, giving back to the community has been important to me. In 2005 I joined the Third World Bunfight, a performance company. Through it, I travelled the world performing as well as writing music and plays such as the House of the Holy Afro. Five years later, I joined the Baxter Theatre as the artistic director of the Zabalaza Festival (formerly Ikhwezi Festival). Through the festival, we brought theatre to disadvantaged communities by finding raw talent and
facilitating workshops to help hone their acting and story writing. Additionally, we
introduced mini-festivals in local halls where the storytellers could showcase their talent.


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Theatre prepared me for the limelight. For 15 years, I avoided being on TV and movies because I felt that I hadn’t learnt all that theatre had to teach. I was afraid of losing my privacy. Working on the movie Inxeba (The Wound), which was surrounded by controversy, opened my eyes to the fact that South Africans have a lot to do in regards to changing our mindsets about how we own and tell our stories. When I won the award for best supporting
actor in a feature film at the South African Film and Television Awards, it affirmed that
I made the right decision to be a part of the movie. It also opened doors for me.

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Joining Scandal! has been an exciting journey. The call to join the show came just when the controversy around Inxeba was settling down. Landing the role changed my life. I had to move from Cape Town to Joburg for the duration of my time on the show. My first day on set was nerve- racking; working alongside some of the most well-established actors in the industry was scary. Fortunately, they were helpful. I am excited for viewers to get to know my character, Mthunzi Mayisa, even better