In fact, the Kardashians might just have met their match because when it comes to drama, drama, drama, these sisters can outdo anything Kim, Khloé, Kourtney and company have to offer.
The Ranakas are South Africa’s weekly reality show fix and viewers can’t get enough of them. Family life has seldom been so entertaining and what you see on screen is what you get in real life, we discover when Manaka, 39, Mpumi, 37 and Dineo, 35, spend some time with us at our offices.
Dineo arrives first, petite and full of life. A friendly Mpumi joins her not long after and for a while they get on so well you’d be forgiven for thinking their onscreen fights are staged or scripted. But it’s all true, they assure us, as Dineo pops a bottle of bubbly “to relax”. Manaka arrives last.
She’s calmer than her two younger sisters and heads into the garden to tuck into her lunch while her sisters get ready for the shoot. Dineo points to her. “That one is so peaceful. She’s not crazy like Mpumi and me. Look at her enjoying her food in peace.”
She and Mpumi have come to accept they love each other but they aren’t each other’s favourite people, Dineo adds.
The situation may change one day but for now they’re accepting it’s just the way it is. “Manaka and I are in a long-distance relationship because we hardly spend time together and Mpumi and I have a love-hate relationship,” Dineo says.
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"It’s true, Dineo and I don’t get long, but we are trying to fix things,” Mpumi chimes in. “Our clash is a big stress to the family.” It’s because they’re so similar, she believes.
“We have similar lifestyles, similar tastes and choices. We are both very vocal, we both get angry, we are hard workers and we both strive for the same things. Therefore we clash.”
Back from her lunch, Manaka tells us she’s learned to be the calm one but “being the eldest comes with responsibility and can be a burden”. “Being a firstborn child you are made responsible for the siblings that come after you. You are also made to lead by example and it’s a lot of pressure.” But family is family and you must do what you have to.
Mpumi is a writer, housewife, motivational speaker and the co-owner of Lalala bedding company. She’s also mom to Lwazi, 25, Thando, 18 and 11-year-old Lerato and twins Laila and Lucah would have completed the picture if tragedy hadn’t struck when she was six months pregnant.
Complications arose and she lost the babies yet every year she still celebrates what would have been their birthday. Mpumi knows the twins are looking down on her every move and they keep her motivated, she says. Although she’s regarded as the least famous Ranaka sister, Mpumi isn’t new to the spotlight.
Back in the 1990s she was a backing vocalist for various groups and toured with Brenda Fassie and King Rap before he was known as Joe Nina. But she decided to leave the limelight early. “I was still very young when I started out in the entertainment industry and I saw some traumatic things on tours. There was a lot of alcohol, partying and infidelity involved. That made me hate fame,” she says.
“I only agreed to be on The Ranakas to honour the legacy of my father [Ntate Ranaka]. Our dad was a journalist and photographer during apartheid. He started many publications but he was labelled a sell-out and treated badly.
“His passion was taken out of his mouth while he was still enjoying it. I want him to regain his legacy. I want to share some of the work my father has done in the past. His contribution to the media industry can’t go unnoticed. My dad played a big part during the apartheid era and I want us to share some of his work on the show.”
Had it not been for her quest to put her dad’s work in the spotlight, Mpumi would be living a secluded life and dealing with her challenges in private. In the latest season she opened up to her family about being sexually abused twice by a neighbour. “I’m glad I spoke up about it on TV,” she says. “I want to help other people who have gone through the same experience.”
Dineo says she isn’t “too obsessed with fame” but appreciates the love she receives from fans. The outspoken mother of Kgosi, 8 and Kopano, 5 says she got into television and radio to understand the business of entertainment.
“I didn’t choose to have a reality show for fame, but I was desperate for an education.” Her mind, she adds, wasn’t designed for the South African education system. “I have a rebellious nature and I’m business minded. “I am not designed to sit in a classroom and learn because I have a practical mind that requires me to be in the field.”
Dineo says she sometimes thinks people misunderstand her personality on The Ranakas. “God made me extroverted, loud and opinionated and I’ve learnt to monetise my persona,” she says.
But it took time to understand and get to know herself and love her qualities. “I had to force myself to look into the mirror and ask who I am. I said, ‘Dineo, stick to your truth’. “I’m vulgar at times. I’m graceful at times and I wear sheepskin to the Durban July because I’m my own person and I do not need validation from anyone.
“My self-love keeps me motivated.” Dineo learned how to love herself from her dad and mom, Mma Siba, who live by example and have become as popular as their daughters since the show started. “Our parents taught us how to love. They love each other unconditionally and I pass that on to my children.”
Dineo believes had she come from a broken home, she would have also turned out damaged. A few years ago she found balance in her life.
“I fast and I pray for my sanity. When people see me being opinionated, screaming and shouting, they think I’m back to my so-called old ways. I was always painted as this irrational person who is loud, wants to be heard and is always getting into arguments. But that was a younger Dineo. Now I am centred. I am very sure of who I am. Yes, I’m loud, yes, I do want to be heard and I don’t need validation from anyone anymore.”
She fasts and prays so she can be a better mother. “I don’t do it to try to appear like an angel.” The Metro FM presenter and motivational speaker says her mind is in the right place. “I’m in a space where I have no pressure to appease anyone or abide by anyone’s rules.”
She’s in a relationship, she shares, but doesn’t want to mention a name just yet. Dineo says she’s amazed by the love and friendship she gets from her bae. “I am blown away by the kind of father and friend he is. We make magic together.”
Manaka was the first sibling to join the entertainment industry. Her first appearance on TV was for ’90s music group Dalom Kids where she was a video vixen. After that she landed a role in the SABC3 soapie Isidingo.
Acting is her passion, she says, and she does it because “I just want to tell stories and entertain people. I didn’t get into it for fame or awards”. She always stays true to herself, she adds, even on The Ranakas.
“I can never be pretentious or compromise myself in any situation. I have never found myself in a situation where I couldn’t be vocal about any topic.”And it’s all thanks to her spirituality, which keeps her grounded.
“Out of everyone in my family, I was always the one preaching Africanism.” At age 17 she rebelled against the church and turned Rastafarian, she says. “I was always in search of something spiritual.” It all came to a head in a recent episode of The Ranakas where Manaka was informed by a healer of a possible spiritual calling.
The elder strung together pieces of wool, prayed over them and she wears this around her neck. “Some people wear it around their waist, but I wear mine on my neck. It’s not for protection or anything dark and sinister. It’s a personal reminder that prayer is vital. I put it on my neck and not my waist because I don’t need to cover it or hide it,” she says.
Whether she has a calling or not, she’s not yet sure. “But I am on a journey of finding out.” In the past few years she’s been told of a possible gift which requires certain ceremonies to be done.
“If it’s a sangoma calling, I will gladly accept it. I’m not ashamed of my roots,” she says. But she doesn’t want to pressure herself about it. “If I have to be wrapped in beads and kangas, I will gladly take it.”
She’s on a path of discovery, Manaka shares. Last year she lost her best friend, celebrity make-up artist Iko Mash, after a battle with cancer. “He died in my arms and I had a cleansing ceremony afterwards. But there was another cleansing that needed to be done so I consulted with someone,” she says.
“There, I got more than I had expected. I can’t share too much, but I am on a spiritual journey.” And that includes focusing her time and energy on raising healthy and happy children, as well as on her acting career.
In terms of dating, she’s open to finding love but for now she’s single. Her relationship with her family and kids comes first. She describes herself and Dineo as being young at heart, fun and playful, and Mpumi as more serious because “she had to grow up fast”.
Manaka, who is mom to Kagiso, 19, and Lesedi, 10, says she wants a different childhood for her kids after spending hers being responsible for her younger siblings. “No firstborn of mine shall be responsible for anybody else’s life but her own.”
Yet she concedes her upbringing made her “stronger than I look”. “That’s how I was raised. If I wasn’t strong then my siblings would have crumbled.” Seems she did a good job – there isn’t much crumbling going down on The Ranakas.