Sophia Chese-Msowa Lifestyle Correspondent—
A number of artistes, especially actors and actresses, across the country have given up due to a number of challenges in the industry. Some started with the aim of breaking onto international limelight, but faltered on the local scene.For Zimbabwean-born Chiedza Mhende, it is a different story. Fondly known as Chi, the actress is making a mark in South Africa on popular soap “Generations- The Legacy”, albeit through playing a male role of Wandile Radebe. Yes, she plays a male role and many have not noticed the person behind the character is a woman. Something close to Robin Williams in “Mrs Doubtfire” or “Oh Schuks . . . I’m Gatvol!”. The difference could be in make-up. Chi seems to have mastered the way of doing it with less cosmetic add-ons, yet she looks different on set and in reality.
Many people have questioned how a beautiful lady like Chi managed to get a role of a male character in the popular South African soapie.
Having joined the Speech and Drama class at Dominican Convent School in Harare at the age of seven, it was at the age of 11 that she discovered that she was not going to become the doctor as she had always dreamt of.
“I was not a science student. I was also highly addicted to (connecting with) people and thus my audience. The stage therefore became my home, presenting a space that gave me a sense of self-worth and confidence. I was also proud to share and receive the warmth of my audience as they came to share their own stories as a result of what my work had delivered to them,” she said.
Coming from a background where her parents both are teachers, Chi believes in the meaning of the Shona names, her name Chiedza, was symbolic since it means light. She saw the light early and has been giving light to others through her talent.
“I believe in the pride and meaning of our Shona names and I know that God gave me this light to share. It is not mine own. It is for the people. A light that forces me to lead and gives me the courage to educate through my craft and the glorious gift of storytelling.”
After stealing the hearts of many through her acting skills, Chiedza became popularly known as Chi, the same nickname that renowned singer Chiwoniso Maraire had. It was a sign of her potential.
But, how did she end up in Generations?
“I auditioned from Cape Town in June 2015, where I was living and working as an actress. I then travelled to Johannesburg for the callback audition up against three other women. As was revealed in November 2016 we now know the character of Wandile Radebe to be played by a female character. We all had knowledge of the character when we auditioned. The producers looked at both men and women in the hopes of displaying the character through the use of an androgynous actor which is the ability to present as both male and female character.”
Chi who was this year nominated for the Zimbabwe Achievers Awards South Africa in the Media Personality category has attributed her success to commitment, grace and respect.
“The common denominator of every soul I have ever valued and considered is the ability to be a teacher, be it my formal educators or friends and family that have depth and respect. Every character I perform is well-researched for there is knowledge to be gained beyond what we know of our meagre selves.
“My parents taught me to always value the journey of “the other” beyond my own understanding. This is what gives me the knowledge and understanding of the world and its colorful beings. To be an actor is to have respect for this notion, in order to accurately portray the tales of the characters we embody. That, coupled with a never failing respect for the self against others, will forever be the grace of whatever work I offer.”
She said she is over whelmed by her nomination in the Media Personality category which has been aptly renamed the Simba Mhere Award.
“I feel honoured and ecstatic to the extreme when this renaming occurred I told myself one day I will stand at that podium and honour my hero. To even be considered to be on his level is every dream come true. I can only bow to the Almighty for hearing my prayers. Let love and glory reign,” she said.
Chi has challenged other Zimbabweans to try and make it within Africa and not to think that Europe is superior to other continents.
“My joy comes from knowing that though, today, I am being honoured for my work outside of Zimbabwe, it is still for work within Africa and in my case that is South Africa. It is crucial to me that African children know that our gems and sense of self-worth be realised in Africa.
“There is of course knowledge to be gained and realised from first world teachings, however my current mantra is that Africa is the first world as it originally was and as it is,” she said.
She highlighted that her main motive is to show the world what Africa is made of when it comes to acting and other avenues.
“I take this as an opportunity to show our world the riches of the African wealth and perspective is a blessing. So I am eternally grateful,” she said.
Chi has encouraged all the actors and actresses who are trying to make it here and across the globe to educate themselves on who they really are and everything else must follow.
“To all my dreamers out there I have to start with ‘read, educate yourself on who you are, what your message is and who you wish to share it with’. Any work or presentation is worthless without purpose. Never let it be about game or a venture for the “bright lights”. Always make sure it is for the heart or at least one deserving soul.”
Chi is also a voice artist making it easier for her to pull of her male role on Generations. She moved to Cape Town in 2006 to study at AFDA, the South African School of Motion Picture Medium and Live Performance. She was introduced to Cape Town’s theatre scene as Lady Capulet in a 2010 Artscape production of “Romeo and Juliet”.
Other theatre credits include K. Sello Duiker’s “The Quiet Violence of Dreams”, JM Coetzee’s “Waiting for the Barbarians”, Titania in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” (performed at the Grahamstown National Arts Festival in July 2012), “Taming of the Shrew”, “The Comedy of Errors”, and “Richard III”.
Her theatre training extends to Drama Therapy having worked with organisations such as the Bonfire Improv Theatre Company and the Zakheni Arts Therapy Foundation.
She is also the voice of “Siyaya” and Al Jazeera’s global health series “Lifelines”.
Film and Television credits include “Evil in Our Midst”, “The Tunnel”, “Stokvel 6”, “Mad Dogs 3”, and “Love the One You Love” which made its debut at the 2014 Durban International Film Festival.