When Siyabonga Majola was growing up in Mpophomeni he never imagined he’d be a movie star.
In Grade 10, with a few friends, he put on a sketch of ‘township comedy’ to entertain school mates. The feedback was positive, so they did another and soon Siya had decided that he wanted to pursue acting as a career. With Mpophomeni Youth Productions and Izwi, his passion for acting grew and he decided to devote himself to making plays and becoming the best performer that he could. Fellow performer, Lindokuhle Mshengu remembers he was full of jokes, but absolutely serious about his work. “You could see that acting was a real passion, acting gave him life. He never missed rehearsals and became a different person on stage, excelling in every role he was given. I am sure that if we were in a place where there were vast opportunities, he would have appeared on our home screens by now.”
Facilitator, Eidin Griffin recalls him playing Daddy Dinosaur in Tyrannasaurus Drip – a play about a vegetarian dinosaur born into a T-Rex family who finally finds his real tribe. “Siya is a great actor, but what I really love about him is that he is so thoughtful and amazing with children. He is gentle and kind – a great mentor.”
Recently, Siya has been involved with the Twist Theatre Development project where he has learnt more about script writing, acting and directing. “I like being able to bring history and social issues to life through a play,” he says, “you get to engage with many different people and influence their emotions.”
In 2016 Siya directed ‘True Story’ a play based on the life of six year old Nokulunga Gumede, who was killed during the turbulent times in Mpophomeni during the 1980’s. Gael Taylor, facilitator of Lisakanya – a programme for school leavers that Siya participated in – was impressed at his commitment to the project. “Siyabonga put his all into this project. He worked with no budget but brought the story to life. You could see his passion for the people of the community and his ability to transfer this piece of history in a really engaging way. His dream has always been to be in theatre or film and I think really to produce. He loves to laugh and yet took his role as mentor seriously.”
Siyabonga is very grateful for the leadership, networking and business skills he gained during his time with the Lisakhanya project. “If it wasn’t for them I doubt that I would have heard about Josh’s film. They forwarded me the article and helped me with emailing a letter to him. Lisakhanya is designed for school leavers who are willing to make a better life for themselves and their communities. I didn’t hesitate when I heard about the project and what I learnt from Gael and Jo Ngwenya is amazing – personal development, working in teams and on community projects. These all boosted my confidence and communication skills – elements that you need as an actor.”
More recently in 2017, Siyabonga wrote and directed ‘The Protector’ a play that participated at Winston Churchill District Art Festival. “Stage acting is very different from film, because you engage with the audience and need to go deep into the character and use your body effectively to be believable. There is no editing. This improves your creativity.” Currently, Siya is working on a play called ‘Faulty Foundations’ about June 16th.
On 1 August the Locarno Film Festival opens in Switzerland.
Siya will be there on the red carpet to watch the World Premiere of the movie he stars in – Siyabonga We are Thankful. Locarno is one of the most prestigious festivals in the world and has been a home for some of the film industries most significant faces, in recent times screening the films of Steven Spielberg, Ken Loach, JJ Abrams and South Africa’s very own Oliver Hermanus. Siyabonga (the movie) is in the running for 5 awards, including the for Golden Leopard for Best Film.
This extraordinary turn of events is entirely due to Siya’s determination and dedication. When he read in the local newspaper, The Meander Chronicle, that a young filmmaker, Joshua Magor, was planning to make a movie in the midlands, he contacted him and they hit it off immediately. Siya made such an impression, that Joshua scrapped his original ideas for a screenplay and set out instead to make a movie about Siyabonga instead. “I think part of what impressed me about Siya was that he seemed totally unafraid to pursue the things he wanted. He just decides, “this is what I want” and then works towards getting it. So, I decided to make a film about him, and about this moment that stirred so much in me. I truly feel like there are many moments in life where we can inhibit ourselves because we are afraid to make a drastic decision. In the particular instance of this film my intuition felt so strong it was impossible to not follow it.”
The film is based on real events, re-enacted by those who lived through them. Siyabonga’s past echoes in his present in much the same way that South Africa’s own history seems to have left an indelible mark on the people and places of the film. Siya is astonished at how things have turned out, “I honestly never thought for one moment that I would ever act in front of the camera, let alone on a proper film. Playing myself was an interesting experience, I did not have to do any research about my character as I usually do.”
Joshua continues, “With this film I wanted to make something that presented the truth of a person’s spirit in the context of a country dealing with many obstacles and historical trauma. I wished to make something totally in awe of the presence of people and places as they are. I wished to do this while being observant and obedient to the rhythms and details that constitute their essences. To make a film that attends to the reality of life without bias, where both cruelty and joy are equal elements which cannot be escaped and therefore must be confronted.”
Shot on location in Mpophomeni, Howick and Pietermaritzburg with many of Siya’s neighbours and friends (in particular, Sabelo Khoza and Ntokozo Mkhize) participating, this film is certain to delight local audiences, and we hope enchant the judges at the Locarno Film Festival too.
Recently, Siya was himself a judge at the Trashion Show held in Howick. “I am passionate about helping my community. Mpophomeni is a great place to live. It is a small community, but some of the issues are big. I am determined to play my part in making things better.”
So armed with his brand new passport, his signature crisp white shirt and stylish shoes, Siya boards a plane bound for Switzerland soon. “I am most looking forward to seeing the movie”, he smiles, “I can’t wait to see the movie.”
We’ve put a bottle of champagne on ice and look forward to Siya coming home to tell us all about his adventures. Would you like to contribute a little spending money to make this a memorable trip? Banking details below.
S Majola, Capitec Bank, Account number: 1380639830. Do let Siya know about your generosity so he can share his stories with you when he gets home – firstname.lastname@example.org