She thought she was done with showbiz. There were reports Brenda Ngxoli packed her bags and headed home because like many actors, she was unhappy with the cut-throat industry.
Others said she was broke. But when we speak to the actress about why she took such a long break, she sets the record straight. She’d been thinking about leaving for a while, she tells DRUM.
“It’s funny seeing those stories about me as I didn’t leave because I didn’t have money, or because I was angry with the industry. I didn’t leave because of an alcohol or drug problem. I followed my heart for my own physical and spiritual growth.”
Though the 39-year-old stepped out of the spotlight for a while – seven years to be exact – Brenda quickly got back into the swing of things. She’s been sizzling up screens in Mzansi Magic’s Ithemba.
“I didn’t sleep for this role or bribe anyone, and I don’t judge people who do, but I always audition for my roles,” she jokes.
Brenda plays Nomonde, a woman who is abducted by a cult operating on the land her late mother owned and left in her name.
The cult members want her to give them the land. “The storyline is about the unspoken world of dark forces and light; it’s not comedy-driven. It also came at a time when spirituality is at the top of my mind. For the first time I’m doing something because I want to. It’s everything I’ve learnt about spirituality,” she says.
The award-winning actress doesn’t shake hands or hug anyone who greets her, we notice. Instead, she claps twice and says “Camagu” as a nod to her ancestors.
“Yes, I went through the sangoma initiation process called ukuthwasa,” Brenda reveals. It’s not something she wants to discuss at length, but she is proud to have answered the call.
“I encourage people to explore our African spirituality. I believe we all have those senses, but some choose to exercise them at church because we’ve been conditioned that way,” she notes.
Her journey to becoming a sangoma is part of the reason she left Joburg. “Things were going well for me and I was happy. But it got to a point where I questioned my being and my origins,” she recounts.
She needed to clear her head.
“The Eastern Cape has always been close to my heart. Growing up in front of the camera wasn’t easy, I needed to cool my head,” she says.
So Brenda packed her bags and headed home to Xolobe, even though her friends thought it was a bad idea because her career was peaking.
“I yearned to see those hills of the Eastern Cape. And there was no amount of money that could satisfy that yearning.”
She got by on savings and royalties, she says. “It’s a bit of a process but it’s not too much work.”
She used the first paycheque she got from SABC1’s Tsha Tsha to build her mother a house.
“And with the money I got from the show Home Affairs I bought furniture. I was always working for a home.”
Brenda revelled in small-town life. “In the city we call it being green but, in the village, agriculture is a way of life. If you don’t have a kraal, your neighbours look at you in a funny way.”
She enjoyed not having to buy meat or vegetables, she boasts.
“If a chicken or a goose looks at you funny, you slaughter it,” she says laughing. “You don’t starve in the village. When they say your life is in your hands, it’s not a lie.”
During this time Brenda says she was contacted by several production houses with job offers, but she always made excuses.
“If it wasn’t about bad network signals, it was money problems. I would lie because I didn’t want to be rude, but I really didn’t want to come back. I had told myself I was done with acting,” the actress adds.
She loved waking up in the morning to the crowing of roosters and exploring the land that belonged to her forefathers. It wasn’t easy to give up her peaceful village life and head back to the city.
“It’s all because of producers, Percy Vilakazi, Phathutshedzo Makwarela and the Fergusons they brought me back,” she tells us.
Percy, she says, convinced her to take on the role of Dambisa Dikana in The River. “They transported me to Joburg, which was very costly. I don’t know what motivated them because I was really not up to it, but they were persistent.”
Back on set, Brenda realised just how much she’d missed acting. “The bug bit me again. I had a blast there.”
And as much as she loved the rolling hills and peace and quiet of home, the bright lights of the big city beckoned.
“I had to love me and put Brenda first. I decided to put on my weave and head to Joburg,” she says with a laugh. “Now I’m in the city full-time.”
She knows her views on the Fergusons may not be popular.
The couple were recently put on blast when veteran actress Vatiswa Ndara penned an open letter to minister of arts and culture Nathi Mthethwa.
In the six-page missive, Vatiswa referred to an offer she was made by Ferguson Films, owned by seasoned actors Shona and Connie Ferguson.
She spoke of actors who were bullied and intimidated while working in hostile conditions where producers prioritise profits over the welfare of the cast and crew members.
Brenda’s experience is vastly different to that of her former co-star. About a month before Vatiswa penned her letter, Brenda thanked several producers, including the Fergusons, for her role in Rockville.
“After I wrote that post I was accused of singing for my supper. It’s fine, let me sing, but I will forever be grateful to them,” she tells DRUM.
She used some of the money she made on Rockville to buy water tanks back home. “If you decide to take that one cent, be responsible for taking it. Because you have a choice.”
With 18 years in the industry, she knows how cut-throat showbiz is and just how tough it can be to survive which is why she chooses to focus on the positive.
“Once you start viewing things with a negative eye you won’t see good in anything. There are places we can improve, but I am so over the whining.”
For now, Brenda is enjoying her good fortune and has big plans to celebrate her 40th birthday next year.
“I wouldn’t like to be 45 sitting at some bar looking for a man,” she quips. -Drum