A Hero Is Born Of The Moment — Menzi Ngubane

A packed gallery at the iconic Market Theatre in Johannesburg is buzzing with photographers and journalist. In the midst are some few familiar faces — legendary actor John Kani, Scandal star Patrick Mofokeng and Shaka Sisulu. There is a sense of urgency and restlessness in the room, I place it in mind as a results of the proceeding running late. 

After a few minutes of slight annoyance that it is now 13h40 and we still have not started proceeding, a murmur erupts in the room as a group of some familiar faces file on to the stage. I am taken aback when I notice that they are all dressed in black.

Instantly, I recognize a sense of determination on their faces. For people who live their lives under constant scrutiny, I chuckle at the irony that they would have to put themselves on a stage to literally be judged based on what they will have to say.

To the left second from the right, sits a pregnant lady. She does not make any eye contact with the people on the auditorium but occasionally looks around. "She hasn't changed much. I was wondering how pregnancy would change her physical appearance", I say to myself.

Two seats away from the pregnant lady sits a woman I can't seem to stop smiling when I look at. I feel a sense of happiness that she is there, almost like that feeling I used to get when I was a child and I saw my mother after she had been away for a while. This lady is wearing a black dress with white tassels. 

To the far right sits a slightly frail looking man. He immediately stands out as I notice that he does not look well. There is certain vulnerability that is written on his face. I just dismiss it as my own fan expectation of wanting him to be the imposing figure he plays on screen. 

As I keep stealing a glance at the man, I get a sense of sadness befall over me. I find myself feeling sorry and surprisingly a little embarrassed that I am feeling that way. 

This was the scene at the Generations actors press conference. Emotions ran high and the frustration and sense of betrayal was palpable. 

Patrick Shai, who was the first of the actors to address the gallery, was very steadfast in projecting an image of vigour and tenacity as he relayed his experiences of the industry and opinions of the events of the past week.  

When Shai spoke of the "blatant lies" that have been bantered about, you could see the anger building up on some of the actors' faces. Slindile Nodandala, who plays Ruby Dikobe, displayed a visible sense of annoyance whenever Shai mentioned exploitative measures that the SABC has taken over the years. 

When Shai addressed the issue of an actor that Mfundi Vundla claimed to have paid medical fees for from his pocket, some of the ladies could not hold their emotions. Katlego Danke who had somewhat remained poker-faced throughout the proceedings, suddenly got teary eyed. But none was visibly emotional as Zikhona Sodlaka. The actress looked wounded. 

As Zikhona took to the podium to speak, it was evident that hers was going to be fiery speech. She walked to the podium with a look of a betrayed soldier plastered on her face. Her speech lived up to her demeanor in the beginning but as soon as she spoke of her colleague who is sick and was sullied by lies, her emotions betrayed her. 

The actress could not hold the tears. Her emotional moment set the pace for what was to be an afternoon of reflection, frustration and anger. These people wanted everyone in that room to know that they are fed-up. Furthermore they wanted to send a message that they are strong and will not wither. 

An interesting approach was taken by Sophie Ndaba who has been with Generations for over 20 years. Her stance was that of a confident woman who will say what we all know but would not expect her to say. She chucked all the prim out of the window. She boldly told a room full of reporters that SHE IS A STAR, and should be remunerated as such. 

Ndaba blatantly challenged the media contingency to refute her stance that she makes them money. She boldly laid it out to the room that her mishaps, failures and presence makes people money, so she and her colleagues in the industry deserve part of that money. 

Another confident stance came from the always eloquent figure that is Nambitha Mpulwana. The actress has this regal authoritative way about her. When she speaks, she commands attention and she gets it. When she broke down the numbers and attacked that R55 000 claim, we listened. 

She occasionally employed her audience to convey the message for her by asking them direct rhetorical questions like, would they be ok with someone publicly revealing their salaries. That way she was actively writing the story for these journalists. The woman has a whiff of power and majesty about her and she knows it... I bet her colleagues know it too hence they chose her to speak about the touchy salary issue.   

And it happened ...

The poignant moment of the day came courtesy of what seemed like a spontaneous moment from Menzi Ngubane. They may have planned for him to speak but the way it happened, it seemed as if he was not planning on speaking but was compelled to by the emotions in the room. 

He walked to the podium with a slightly stagger in his walk. It was clear the man is not well but we were not ready for the words he was about to utter. 

Ngubane looked "pissed off". He started off by saying that he will speak in isiZulu and he immediately went straight into making his declaration that when Mfundi Vudla told the media that he had to cover medical bills for an actor with a brain clot he was in fact referring to him and was not entirely honest about the matter.
“It was a Thursday when I got discharged from Helen Joseph and I got a call sheet on Friday (as weak as I was after spending seven weeks in hospital) to say that I was working on Monday. It did not mean anything. The important thing for them was for me to get back to work. 
“I woke up on that Monday and went to work. I had to be given a chair to sit whenever we went on standby during the shooting because I was still recovering. In my condition, I still did six to ten scenes a day," explained teary-eyed Ngubane, whilst his colleagues who sat behind him displayed visible signs of hurt as they related to his pain.
He shared that he was diagnosed with kidney failure and has to undergo dialysis at least four times a day.
“Vundla knows the truth. My friend took me to a hospital. When we got there, we discovered that I am not on any medical aid and my friend signed a cheque to cover the costs."
He said that he spent a total of seven weeks at Helen Joseph and Vundla had never offered to have him transferred to a private hospital.
“I was diagnosed with kidney failure at Helen Joseph. Mfundi came to see me with Frederik Stark along with Costa. Mfundi never said they must transfer me from Helen Joseph to a private hospital."
I was tweeting at the time but could not continue. It somehow felt wrong to share what was happening in the room at the time. Katlego Danke, Zikhona Sodlaka, Nambitha Mpumlwana, had tears in the eyes. Zoliswa Xaluva, who plays Jason, tried to keep a straight face but you could see the fire in his eyes. 

Seputla Sebogodi, looked like a man who had just been kicked in the gut. He looked like a broken man as he watched his colleague speak. 

The moment put everything in perspective and, as we say in this business, the narrative was changed. Suddenly, not even the powerful moment at the beginning, when the actors read out names of passed actors who never got a chance to fight for their worth in this business, could tell these people's story like what was happening in that moment. 

The actors wore black to mourn, symbolically the death of artists' bargaining power and literally, their fallen colleagues, but it was a moment of candor from a living soul that told their story raw and unfiltered. If one did not get it with the numbers and the passionate plight of poverty, they certainly got it when a man who is the embodiment of masculinity in this country, stood frail and expressed the injustices he has had to endure in an industry he loved. 

This morning I woke up and read my emails. One name, one memory with the same emotions as if I am experiencing it again was still etched in my mind, then I remembered a quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson;
"A hero is no braver than an ordinary man, but he is brave five minutes longer."
Menzi Ngubane is a hero..  


1 comment:

Fred-Arthur said...

What a blast it was and everyone looked stunning. Thank you for coming through. Hope to see you soon. #jointheMOVEMENT

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