It’s been more than a month since her character was killed off and fans are still coming to terms with her death – but for Sibusisiwe Jili it felt like a weight had been lifted off her shoulders when Zanele was laid to rest.
For five years the Isibaya actress played the club manager whose life spirals out of control when she starts dating the son of a ruthless taxi boss.
“I will miss that girl – she was crazy, but it was time for her to die. Her character wasn’t growing.”
Zanele’s death came at just the right time for the actress, known as Sibu in music circles, who’s been wanting to spread her wings for a while.
“I’ve been too afraid to be myself,” she say.
“Now I’m ready to show people who I am. I am loud, I am playful, fun, creative – and I have a beautiful voice.”
Isibaya’s creators agree. They’re using her pipes for the show’s music but Sibu, who released her debut single Hennessey a few years ago, is reluctant to sing her own praises.
“I was always creative. I could write poetry, sing, dance. But I wasn’t confident enough to see things through. “I was the tallest girl in school and the darkest, so I was insecure. I’d start something and quit halfway because I thought I wasn’t good enough.”
But that’s all changed. She got into acting when she was scouted by an agent in her hometown, Pietermaritzburg, and told she has what it takes to be a model.
“I wasn’t sure, but I joined the agency anyway. I got a few modelling jobs and a few acting gigs as an extra,” she recalls.
Getting her break on Isibaya changed her life. “Acting gives me confidence as I get to step into someone else’s life,” she says. “I needed to work on my confidence, and Isibaya did that for me. I played my role and I did it well. It’s time to move on to the next chapter”
The actress, model and businesswoman plans to build on her success by releasing an album of hip-hop, gqom and Afropop songs based on her personal experiences. One of the songs is about an ex-boyfriend she now believes was a con artist.
“That man almost broke me,” she points out. “It’s like he could smell my vulnerability and he preyed on that.”
The 30-year-old single mom met the guy, whose name is known to DRUM, on social media last year.
“I get a lot of inbox messages from men and I usually ignore them. I don’t know why I respond to his messages,” she adds.
The more they chatted, the more Sibu was intrigued. He told her he lived with his mother, a lawyer, in the north of Johannesburg while he was studying to be a pilot.
“He was perfect – in fact, too good to be true.”
For six months she was fooled into thinking he was the man she’d been praying for. “He’d even visit me and come with pilot school papers and pretend to be studying. He was a proper con man,” reveals Sibu.
The actress found out he’d been lying when she was approached at parties and in malls by women who claimed the man was a con. “People I had never met saw me with him and warned me about their own experiences with the guy,” she says. “Luckily he wasn’t getting any money from me, but I found out he’d been tricking women to give him money.”
The man didn’t only pretend to be a trainee pilot. Sibu, who owns production company House of Cards, claims he also scammed women, including her stylist Smah Mzolo.
“Smah is one of the people who approached me to tell me I need to stay away from this guy.”
After trading war stories about the man who had charmed them, the businesswomen became so close the actress hired Smah, who also owns her own clothing store. “He scammed her in a business deal,” Sibu says. “He ordered T-shirts from her but never paid in full and disappeared. He deleted his social media accounts but kept updating mine.
“The bastard hacked my Instagram. He got access to my bank account but didn’t take any money. I think he didn’t want to steal from me but might have been using me as a cover-up for his dodgy dealings,” she reasons.
Sibu says she didn’t press charges as she wanted to forget about the incident and move on but was surprised to get a call from the police.
“They said they were calling on his behalf, they used his name. He opened a case against me claiming I was harassing him, but all I did was ask for my Instagram password and for him to stay far away from me.”
Her resolve was strengthened by a warning from her mother, Monica Dolly Thembekile Jili, a retired teacher.
“My family is very spiritual, we are a traditional Zulu family,” she says. “My mom dreamt I was dating a guy and he got me into serious trouble. She advised me to leave whoever I was seeing. And I did just that, I left him.”
Sibu blocked his calls and changed her number. She took her three-year-old son and moved in with her mom at the behest of her three sisters, Slindile, 32, Nomthandazo, 28, and Nontobeko, 23.
“They just wanted me to be safe.” She regrets introducing the guy to her little boy. “I don’t like exposing my child to men, but I thought he was special.”
The artist since moved into a new flat, but her son will stay with her mom until she feels safe enough for him to come home.
The incident has shaken Sibu, who has become more security conscious. “I don’t trust anyone who inboxes me, whether it’s work or just to socialise. If people want to talk about work, they should send emails. I want to be safe. I could have died or been injured.”
Having learnt from her bad experience, Sibu is putting the past behind her. “I met a new guy in April,” she reveals.
“Siya is a sales analyst at Mercedes-Benz in Sandton and we met through a friend at a get-together. He’s very calm, open and honest,” she adds.
This time she’s taking things slow. “I don’t want to rush to introduce him to my family. I got burnt before and I want my son to be safe.”
Sibu has been unlucky in love, but now that she’s reinventing herself as a singer, she believes she’s on track. “My life is starting to take shape and is going in the right direction.” -Drum