Remembering Sibusiso Khwinana

The ‘Matwetwe’ actor was a fresh young theatre maker in his second year of film school, killed for a cellphone after a screening of his debut movie.

In his first major role, 25-year-old Sibusiso Khwinana, who died on Friday 1 March, played the role of Lefa in the movie Matwetwe. Lefa has tons of potential – when we first encounter him, we learn he has just been accepted to study botany at Wits University, an opportunity coveted by many young people across the country, continent and some parts of the world.

He approaches life with the enthusiasm and innocence of a toddler. He’s still hopeful his deadbeat father will assist him with his registration fee, even after he has disappointed him multiple times, as his friend Papi (played by Tebatso Mashishi) points out.

To pay his university fees, Lefa grows and attempts to sell marijuana with Papi’s help. Lefa is an ambitious young man determined to better his life by any means necessary.

After overcoming a few barriers in their attempt to get a buyer for their product, Lefa and Papi strike the jackpot. They stumble upon a white man who’s willing to pay them well for their product. Lefa’s dream to go to Wits comes true.

Khwinana’s life mirrored that of Lefa’s. Only, he wasn’t as lucky.

Theatre to big screen

When the role of Lefa comes knocking at Khwinana’s door, he’s not even looking to get into the film industry. “What happened is we were chilling at the State Theatre,” Khwinana told television show V Entertainment a few weeks ago.

“It’s during the week and shows only play at night. There’s this other guy, a close friend of ours, called Bongani Masango. He comes to us and says there are auditions. Some of us had never been on screen before. We get there and it’s Kagiso Lediga, and there are cameras, so this thing is very serious. They sit us in a circle and start asking us questions, that’s how we got the roles.”

Khwinana was comfortably forging his path in the theatre field when the role of Lefa came knocking. Like Lefa, Khwinana did whatever he could to make his dreams a reality.

He was the founder of the Independent Theatre Makers collective, which turned an old fire station into a makeshift theatre to stage productions and festivals. Through his affiliation with the State Theatre, Khwinana directed his theatre debut, Amend, and went on to work on other productions.

Khwinana and most of the cast of Matwetwe were new faces. This is what a number of South Africans have been lamenting, fresh blood.

‘Fresh and eager’

Seasoned comedian and director of Matwetwe, Kagiso Lediga didn’t regret his decision. Speaking to the Mail & Guardian, he said: “They were the kind of people who, you give them a thing, and then they go and rehearse it and come back blazing. There was a level of professionalism that comes from … I mean, I don’t know if the actors that I am used to working with are jaded because they have been on those long sets of Generations. So they were very fresh and eager and there was definitely a certain zeal that they displayed. They were dope. They were dope ass motherfuckers.”

The film generated more than R300 000 in its first three days on circuit and went on to rake in a few million. The movie proved that the establishment should give new talent more of a chance.

For Lefa, it sparked the idea of broadening his horizons.

“The success of Matwetwe has been overwhelming,” Khwinana told Actor Spaces in a recent interview. “And the support it’s received has been inspiring. In fact, after working on the movie, I was so inspired that I decided to go back to school to pursue a diploma in film and television. I’m currently in my second year at TUT [Tshwane University of Technology]. I feel a sense of duty to tell our stories and Matwetwe has introduced me to the medium of film as a means to achieve my goals.”

Killed for a cellphone

But all the potential the young actor and millions of South Africans were excited about was snatched away for a cellphone on the night of Friday 1 March, at Arcadia in Pretoria after Khwinana had attended a screening of Matwetwe.

“It is alleged that the deceased and his friend were at the corner of Pretorius and Steve Biko Streets when the deceased was accosted by the suspect, who demanded his cellphone,” South African Police Service spokesperson Captain Mavela Masondo said, confirming Khwinana’s murder. “As they were wrestling for the cellphone, the deceased was allegedly stabbed with a sharp object on the upper body. He was certified dead on the scene.”

Khwinana, like thousands of other South Africans, became a statistic of the crime and violence that only seems to be gaining momentum in the country.

Towards the end of the film, Lefa stops himself from telling his best friend that he had sexual intercourse with his mother. He knows it won’t end well. His thoughts are shown in the film and he envisions his friend beating him to death.

The actor told Actor Spaces: “The character Lefa is very close to who I am as a person and that didn’t make it any easier. Sometimes I struggled to find the difference between us. I didn’t know if I was still within myself or I was in character. It reached a point where I felt I wasn’t performing at all.”

Which is a spine-chilling detail, considering Khwinana’s violent death.

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