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Wandile Molebatsi and I.

Wandile Molebatsi: a luminous expression of talent cast-ironed. Familiarize yourself with his name, if you haven’t already, for it is one that will have tongues wagging for as long as South Africans have something good to say about the undeniable stars of this land. This versatile artist is endeavouring into what most might deem formidable: juggling work as an actor, currently playing the role of Blessing on the Mnet soapie, The Wild; forming part of the SAMA nominated, four-member band  Uju, as well as being one of the four founding members of Coal Stove Pictures. Currently, you can catch him as the lead actor in the Peter Bishai film, A Million Colours.

Excitement is abuzz and most people are readying for their plans after work or school … it’s a vividly warm Friday afternoon in Braamfontein, Johannesburg. Seated inside of an impressive Nino’s, situated in the heart of this city, that is characterized by business men and women discussing professional matters and artists who further colour the surroundings with their personas. I can’t wait to dig into the mind of one of our rising stars to converse about A Million Colours, what he thinks about his co-star and love interest on The Wild, Minnie Dlamini as well as plans set for Uju, Coal Stove Pictures and his thoughts on The Power of Partnership! By: Kabelo Khanye.

Kabelo: What is your response to the possibility of A Million Colours being nominated for an Academy Award?

Wandile: I’ll be very honest: that would be incredible. I know the quality of films South Africa makes, so for us to get that sort of a backing would be incredible, astonishing.

K: Do you believe it’s worthy of an Oscar?

W: The director always said that he’s doing something worthy of international exposure and we always thought that maybe it’s because he’s from Canada. But I think when I see the reaction from first and foremost the South Africans, it will be incredible. Fingers crossed because right now I’m just going to hope and pray that it happens, but that would be amazing.

Wandile and Muntu Ndebele

K: Your performance was genuinely passionate, there was an honesty about it and that’s exceptional, considering this is your first major role in a film. What was your approach to portraying Muntu Ndebele?

W: The primary thing that helped me a lot is that bra Muntu Ndebele is actually the Associate Producer of the film, and so what that meant for him is that he could be on set whenever he wants. I mean, he was there four days out of the six-day weeks we were shooting. That was so important because what I was able to do was go up to him and ask him basic questions like, ‘how did you talk to people?’, ‘how did you handle yourself around girls?’ and about the clothing. It’s weird because ’76 seems like it was just yesterday, but I mean the way they dressed was completely different, the way they talked to girls was completely different, the way they related to white people was completely different.

K: That’s amazing that he was on set …

W: …yeah, and willing to talk about really hard things. I mean the film talks about drugs and crime … it was not easy for him to go back into that time, so it was great for me as an actor to have that resource.

K: I’ve got two favourite scenes, one of them being the drug scene. How did you go about preparing yourself to do that scene because it seems very intense to get into that mentality and way of behaving?

W: Peter [Bishai] wanted like a month of rehearsals, and at the time I was like this is ridiculous because we had a stunt schedule and a performance schedule, it didn’t seem necessary. We had like an hour to get one scene, and once that hour is gone, it’s like that’s it. You have to do what you can do in an hour and so the amount of rehearsals we had, helped immensely. I’m glad for the theatre training I got at Wits, because without that, you’d get exhausted.

K: Where have you gone to promote the film?

W: We went to L.A (Los Angeles); we did a short stint in Canada. But the big night was in L.A where we saw the film for the first time.

K: And how was the film received in L.A?

W: Amazingly well. I’ll be honest, you know when we first watched the film, we were a bit nervous because, and I know I’m going to get shot down for this, Americans are very emotional. Their reactions are big and South Africans are quite reserved, and when we showed the film, there were people crying. So we were happy but nervous because we thought when we bring this film home, people aren’t going to necessarily behave like that, but when we did get a similar reaction, we were blown away.

K: What was the aim of the film? Was it to have box office sales, because I know the budget was big, or did you want critical acclaim?

W: Primarily there were three main objects for this film: the very strong biblical redemption story, and that’s why we got Bishop [T.D] Jakes on board, and that was everyone’s goal. We wanted to talk about Muntu’s life: that the mistakes one makes in life, there is a second chance. There is redemption. The third objective was that young South Africa should know that it wasn’t always like this. Like now, we can relax at Nino’s, we can have coffee and because of the sacrifices by millions of South Africans, it’s now like that. Sometimes young South Africa forgets, and it’s understandable because we never experienced it close enough …

K: … And I would think that for you, not being part of 1976, it would be a huge learning experience doing this film: teaching you more about the giants you stand on.

W: And that’s the thing, we are standing on the shoulders of giants. It wasn’t just lip service, as we sometimes perceive the politics of today, but when you look at the courage that the youth then had, they were steadfast and certain that they were not going to learn in Afrikaans because what it meant was a much bigger thing. It wasn’t just about the language; it was about the language that represented a much bigger oppression.

K: An ideology.

W: An ideology. And doing this film was a great opportunity for me to connect with my father and my uncles and my mother, to say, I understand now why you guard this country so closely.

K: The film has been released at such a good time because next month we commemorate June 16. Do you think it’s important to still commemorate the day as we do?

W: Definitely. You know, it’s quite a difficult thing for the government to try to balance reflecting on the past whilst trying to move forward to being a greater country, but when you’re 16, you want to be on Facebook, eat a burger, tell that girl that you love her … you don’t want to deal with all those politics, but they did and we should honour that.

K: Wow, I’ve never thought about it like that before. What do you think are some of the challenges we, as a youth, face today?

W: For me there’s two major scourges we’re dealing with as a country. First, economic freedom: we have to work towards living the dreams of those students of ’76, and there’s an economic imbalance that we have to get right. If we don’t get it right, the freedom we enjoy will be in vain. And then there’s a very boring issue of HIV/Aids: we get bored of it because it’s so common but if we don’t get to a time when the infection rate has not reached zero, it is going to literally, not figuratively, kill our nation.

K: You know, my dad and I, after watching the film, were having a debate with regards to the description of the film. He says, it’s about apartheid and the struggles of that time and it has, within it, a love story. I said, it is about a love story with the backdrop of apartheid. What would you say is the description?

W: I would definitely say, it’s a story about redemption and friendship and love, primarily. The reality of apartheid is the context in which it is set. That’s where it all happened. It’s about those four friends and where it happened.

K: So, I’m seeing a trend here: you studied Drama and Film at Wits; I’m studying Drama and Film at Wits. You’re a film actor; I seek to be one too. You’re acting on The Wild, I dream of acting on The Wild. How is this experience treating you?

W: (Laughs) you know, yesterday we just celebrated our one year anniversary. They said we couldn’t do it. They said that a soapie on location is a disaster because there’s rain, there are aeroplanes, there are sound issues and also because it is an hour outside of Johannesburg, there’s no way. But we did it and it’s been great.

K: What were your thoughts when you read on your script that your character has to romance Minnie Dlamini’s character?

W: Oh gosh, my friends. I didn’t tell them that I’m acting with her because, you know, it’s work. The way they were going crazy when they found out, and I just pecked her on the cheek. And I mean, oh my girlfriend is going to kill me, but Minnie is gorgeous, she really is.

K: (Laughs) And you work well with her?

W: Yes and you would not believe how much energy she has on set. Sometime you’re like to yourself ‘yes I’m getting old, sure case’. So much energy and the thing is, she’s not greedy with it, she’s there, she’s excited and she’s been a pleasure to work with.

K: I also watched Tooth and Nails, the made-for-TV film that your production company produced. I laughed but more than that, I noticed a lot of fresh faces. Is this the aim of the company, to hone new emerging talent in this country?

W: Absolutely, because there’s so much of it. The goal for us is, if we can make more stuff, then South Africans can see more South Africans being amazing.

K: So you’ve already produced the first film, Tooth and Nails, for Mzansi [Magic], and there’s two more. When can we expect them?

W: Lucky Numbers has been released this month and Ke’Jive is playing on the 17th of June. It’s all quite soon so it’s very exciting.

K: This month, the theme for Inspired4Writers is The Power of Partnership, and I know you’re in partnership with director Scottnes Smith, screenwriter Fidel Namisi and producer Terrence Mbulaheni. What is The Power of Partnership, based on your experience?

W: The best way I could explain it is to tell the story. I’ve known Scottnes since I was in grade 1, no jokes. I went to Sacred Heart with him and the thing with partnership is that we need to fight and get over it. You can disagree but get over it and this goes for any company, whether you’re in mining or in construction. There’s something wrong if you never fight with your friends…

K: Really? That’s so funny because I’ve never fought with a friend.

W: I’m telling you, if you can fight with your friend and two weeks later they’re are still your friend, that is someone you can go into business with. The goal, however, must be the same.

K: So there’s a strong sense of brotherhood prevalent?

W: Definitely and you know, I’ve known Fidel since he was 21 and now we’re edging on seven years and it’s like, if you date a girl for seven years, you must marry her because that’s how serious it is. It’s like that. You also want to work with hard workers and the reason why I’m thankful for these guys is that we’ve established a cycle of working, we’re compatible and it works.

K: Can you tell our readers about the new film your company is producing, Hear Me Move [a dance film that will be in nation wide in cinemas]?

W:  We’re very excited about this one. We’ve learned a lot from making corporate videos but this was challenging because it’s a 60 minute film. We have to know how to work a whole crew, organise the editing and how to you back up all the editing, because if there’s one thing I can tell all my Witsie’s out there, you must back up everything (laughs). Take that hard drive and hide it. We’ve got Ivy League on board; we’ve got the NFVF [National Film and Video Foundation] on board and they’ve assisted us with production financing and we’re going to try get more sponsors.

K: What is Wandile Molebatsi doing in ten years?

W: Wandile is on the set, for hopefully, a R10 million project. This film has got all the bells and whistles … we’re shooting a great film. And I’m going to be sitting there, shouting at the director, shouting at the producer (laughs). But for real, that’s my dream: to make really great films that South Africans can take their girlfriends to on a Friday night.

K: You’re also a member of Uju, how is that coming along?

W: That’s going really cool. We had to take a bit of a hiatus because of the accident but we’re trying to get back on the gig circuit. We’re working on our second album and we should be dropping it by September and so it’s just work.

[Wandile fell asleep behind the wheel after working all night. He crashed into a tree and was unconscious in ICU for four days].

K: What lessons has your accident taught you?

W: On the one hand, it has taught me the appreciation for life. On the other hand, it’s taught me that I’m not a superhero. You can’t work for 12 hours and then do three gigs and then go home. It’s made me appreciate my close network of friends and family because I put them through quite a bit. God-willingly, I’m not going to do that again in my life. It has taught me to slow down, focus and appreciate what I have now.

K: What is the one truth that you hold onto?

W: The one truth that I hold onto is that God is alive, that the Lord has saved my life twice. I want to make the best of the grace He gave me. The fact that He looked upon my life and said ‘you’re not ready just yet, keep on working’.

K: Redemption

W: Exactly.

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