To some, Kokstad may be known for its incredibly cold weather and not much else, except that it is named after its founder Adam Kok III who led the Griqua people in their great trek through the rough terrain of the Drakensburg Mountains during the 19th century. But to its residents, who always beam with pride whenever they talk about it, this little town is indeed a place of many wonders and is blessed with many talented individuals. Alas, the scarcity of opportunities is impossible to ignore.
One such talented individual is 36 year old Sinovuyo Sebakeng who has since become a household name at one of the biggest performance stages in the country, the State Theatre. Sinovuyo was indeed born and raised around the time when Bhongweni Township was a hive of activity – with lots of sketches to perform, and sometimes, music and dance competitions. Sebakeng remembers those days as some of the greatest days of her childhood. “My fondest memories would be when I was in Sunday school as we had a lot of activities in church and around Kokstad. Oh and beauty pageants, which I loved even though I was short. We would go for rehearsals at the Youth Center; those were the days.”
Although a generally shy person, when it comes to her love for acting, Sebakeng speaks with great passion, “I’ve always loved acting.” “…when I’m on stage I become a completely different person.”
She went on to study professional acting at the State Theatre, through a development program called ARAS.”
Sebakeng says one of the things that attracted her to Theatre is “the joy of getting to be a different person on stage…” Unlike television which deprives an actor the opportunity to interact with the audience. “…today I can be a sangoma, tomorrow, a lawyer and next week, be a prostitute”, she says gloatingly.
As the first in her family to get into acting, it’s not surprising that the Kokstad born actress found inspiration in the very sketches that she performed in church. Unfortunately, in the era of technology sketches have become less and less popular. But, Sebakeng, who has been doing performance arts for more than 14 years, is convinced that this will change in the near future.
“Theatre teaches you discipline and respect for your craft. I think it would help youngsters with their self esteem problems as well.”
Through Theatre, the State Theatre actress has travelled to places like Vienna, Australia, Holland and Polland, to name but a few. She has also shared a stage with industry greats such as Rantebeng Makapan who is famously known for his role in Generations as Thomas Mashaba – son of the villainous Kenneth Mashaba, Peter Mashigo who is a regular and a veteran in our TV screens and Mandla Gaduka who played Damian in the E-TV series, Ashes to Ashes.
Sebakeng’s biggest support has mainly come from her mother, whom she asserts is the best and her number one fan even to this day. “My mother has always been supportive in everything I do. She has seen a lot of my shows”, says Sebakeng.
When asked if she has ever imagined herself at such a high level, Sinovuyo’s answer is a resounding yes, “it used to be a dream”, she says.
To someone who is unfamiliar with the sort of area that Sebakeng grew up in, it may be easy to assume that it to be an environment that is devoid of any criminal elements. But this could not be further from the truth. If anything, Kokstad townships happen to be amongst some of the most violence-ridden, drug infested Townships in the country and, whether coincidental or not, the biggest, most secure prison in the continent so happens to be located in this little town. Funnily, as if to send a stern warning to the small time criminals who reside there, “Bongweni Maximum Prison” is named after Bhongweni Township; an announcement which caused hue and cry at the time as the criminals claimed that government was cursing them to perpetual criminality.
But in Sebakeng’s case, she made sure that she was “never exposed to that life.” She attributes this to the fact that when she was growing up “she always had something to do”. “…there was always a rehearsal to go to”, she remembers.
Her message to the young people who wish to follow in her footsteps is a simple one, “Don’t ever give up on yourself, and always take notes. You are only as good as your last performance.”