Born in 1963 and raised in the dusty streets of Kwa-Mashu, 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 in soccer, many thought he would end up on the soccer field as a professional soccer player, but his destiny was to entertain people and to keep them glued to him.
He grew up in Kwa-Mashu Township, as a poor, street-wise anda formidable footballer growing up he watched Gibson Kente’s shows who also inspired him to become an actor. Bheki’s background is township theatre, as an actor he worked with major companies around the world, 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.
Bheki created, together with Contralesa’s Ntuthuko Khuzwayo and others, a new KZN theatre company called Just In Time. Just in Time Productions is a theatre trust committed to the development and presentation 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.
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 a chance to train his own son, Menzi Mkhwane, who is now a seasoned actor and together with Sabelo Ndlovu has now found a Durban theatre company, Nu Breed. Nu Breed has produced successful theatrical work across the country
Among many achievements and Awards, Bheki has received the following:-
- Durban Metropolitan Council Achievers Award for Excellence 1998
- FNB Vita Awards: Best Actor; Best New SA Work; Best Production; Solomon’s Pride (Greig Coetzee won Best Director); Best Supporting Actor, Master Harold and the Boys
- Scotsman Fringe First Awards: Bheki Mkhwane and Ellis Pearson were both instrumental in Theatre for Africa’s awards in two consecutive years for Kwamanzi and Horn of Sorrow
- Standard Bank Pick of the Fringe Award: Bheki Mkhwane and Ellis Pearson: Squawk and Holy Moses
- Fleur Du Cap for Best Performance: Bheki Mkhwane, Solomon’s Pride (Nominated, Feb 2001)
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 (apart from soprano Sally Silver who is now based in London) in a joint performance with Britain’s famed London Symphony Orchestra (LSO) at the Barbican. It was the first time that a South African orchestra had undertaken a European tour. Bheki Mkhwane has also had a chance to perform opposite his young actor son, Menzi, in a taught two-hander “Belly of the Beast”
Bheki Mkhwane has become one of South Africa’s most accomplished performers. 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, with whom 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 of which Nicholas Ellenbogen was artistic Director, 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 Edinburg 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 has appeared in numerous commercials and in industrial theatre, and has devised and directed many shows for the stage, not to mention playing roles in Mike Van Graan’s, Dinner Talk at the Grahamstown Festival in 1996 and Athol Gugard’s, Nongogo for the Playhouse Company. 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’s other project is Holy Moses with Ellis Pearson, which was a Pick of the Fringe at the 1997 Grahamstown Festival and which thereafter enjoyed a season at the Civic Theatre in Johannesburg. This show was also presented at the Kaleidoscope Children’s Arts in Rustenburg, where Bheki also presented an educational workshop.
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”. He says “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.”
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 Sopie Awards 2013) for the role he performed in Isibaya as Samson Ndlovu.
He directs, he writes, he produces, he believes in creating your own story, a story that you relate too and borrow from your own experiences in and around you. From street-wise to worldly-wise, Bheki’s range as an actor has enabled him to work with major theatre companies (encompassing a range of plays from Shakespeare to Athol Fugard), host television shows, work as a film actor, develop his superb talent as a story teller and so tour the world with his own work.
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 Isibaya 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. Uzalo actors say working with respected actors like Bheki Mkhwane was stressful at first. As Nymaps Maphalala recalls “It was so scary that at times I felt like I needed to pull up my socks with every scene. But Mkhwane was so welcoming and encouraged us to give truthful, genuine performances. His reassurance made it so much easier.”
Bheki has not left Isibaya and will still appear on the soapie. Even with such a busy schedule, Bheki still manages to do theatre work and continues to train young people who are interested in acting. “I get invited by various institutions to come and conduct theatre workshops,” he says.
Mkhwane is currently working on a 5-part series with Mzansi Magic called “Belly of the Beast” that will hit our television screens in about a year or so. Bheki is more widely known for his work with Ellis Pearson and, together, these extraordinary talents have produced some ground-breaking theatre.