Bheki Mkhwane

Born in 1963 and raised in KwaMashu, Bheki Mkhwane has made a name for himself in theatre as a director, producer, play writer and actor. Mkhwane fell in love with acting at an early age. With a rare God-given skill for soccer, many thought he would end up on the field as a professional soccer player, but his destiny was to entertain people.

While working as as security guard and later as a despatch clerk, Bheki worked in his spare time for the Durban Community Arts Project. In 1986 he joined the Loft Theatre Company where he worked for four years and in 16 productions, including Izigi Ziyasondela; Kwamanzi; Anthony and Cleopatra; Superbike; Richard 111, Mujaji and Master Harold and the Boys, for which Bheki won a Vita Award as Best Supporting Actor in the role of Willie in 1989.

Bheki was a founder member of Theatre for Africa and performed in 1990 in Horn of Sorrow and Eagle, both of which toured the United Kingdom and won the Scotsman First Awards at the Edinburgh Festival. He appeared in the film The Angel, The Bicycle and the Chinaman’s Finger directed by Katinka Heyns, and has played leading roles in several television series, including Khululeka and Motsamai. He has also appeared on Strike it Lucky and Zama-Zama.

Bheki is physical theatre at its very best, transporting audiences into the wilds of Africa with his incredible movement and sounds, created with nothing more than a few sticks and a bucket or two! As an actor he worked together with Ellis Pearson for 15 years sharing the passion for the same kind of theatre. He is a prominent performer who can act, sing and dance. In his youth he formed amateur township theatre groups so, by the time he met Ellis, he was a skillful actor, passionate and energetic. Bheki’s combination of Zulu chic and urban sass endears him to all who meet him.

Just in Time

Over the years Bheki’s talents have broadened and he now works not only as an actor, but also as a director, and co-founder, with Ntuthuko Khuzwayo and others, of KZN-based company, Just In Time, a theatre trust committed to the development and representation of indigenous theatre. Just in Time aims to train theatre practitioners, produce new South African theatre, raise funds to develop and stage productions, and put in place a touring programme for indigenous work. The trust’s vision is to create and stage productions in South African various indigenous languages and to encourage new and innovative writing as well as translate existing quality scripts into South African indigenous languages. The aim is to offer a sustainable environment for new work to be created and staged.

Not only are Bheki’s performances always entertaining, but his work has purpose and local relevance. Bheki created and directed Sitting Around the Fire, a play which portrays many sensitively-handled poignant scenes that also remind us of the violence that beset South Africa on its road to democracy, not to mention the ever-present practice of faction vendettas and reprisals. Sitting Around the Fire deservedly won a Standard Bank Ovation Award on the Grahamstown Festival in 2010.

Bheki has also had the opportunity to train his own son, Menzi Mkhwane, and the two performed together in “Belly of the Beast”. Menzi is now a seasoned actor and together with Sabelo Ndlovu founded a Durban theatre company, Nu Breed. Nu Breed has produced successful theatrical work across the country.

As a narrator Bheki Mkhwane travelled with the KwaZulu-Natal Philharmonic Orchestra (KZNPO), soloists Linda Bukhosini, Bongani Tembe, Sally Silver as well as the Durban Serenade and Soweto-based Imilonji KaNtu choral societies to excite Barbican audiences in the United Kingdom. Bheki worked with the 200-strong touring company from South Africa in a joint performance with Britain’s famed London Symphony Orchestra (LSO) at the Barbican.

He was appointed as the theatre coordinator at the BAT Centre, a tribute to Bheki’s generous talent in helping young actors to develop their own theatrical skills. Bheki says:

Being a celebrity is not something one should look forward to, because the moment you are a celebrity, arrogance walks in and the skill of acting walks out I am a tributary, the art of acting was given to me by the Gods of Africa and it’s my responsibility to teach those who come after me. Life is a relay and every generation needs to pass on the baton whilst there’s still applause and not hog work.”

As seen on TV…

He is best known to television viewers for his starring role as Samson, the head of the Ndlovu clan who is aligned with his hot-headed brother, Mandla (played by Bongani Gumede), in the Mzansi Magic telenovela-turned-soap-opera, Isibaya. Bheki was a nominee in the category of Outstanding Male Villain (Royalty Soapie Awards 2013) for this role .

For over 28 years Bheki refused TV roles as he felt the shows were not a true reflection of the lives of South Africans. Bheki says he could not relate to the stories that were being told on television. It was only when Angus Gibson (director of Isibaya) approached him to be one of the leads on the show that he decided to finally give in as the storyline was a true reflection of our society. He adds that this is the same reason he decided to take the role on Uzalo. In Uzalo, viewers see a different side of Bheki as he portrays a pastor who is trying to start a charismatic church in his neighborhood.

Click here to watch a short montage of Bheki on stage in Born Thru the Nose.