If anyone had asked her 15 years ago if she’d ever consider being in a polygamous relationship her answer would have been a flat no. But now she’d at least consider the option before making a decision – and it’s all thanks to her role on Mzansi Magic’s telenovela Isibaya.
Playing police lieutenant Sibongile Mkhize has revealed a whole new world to her, Lerato Mvelase says. As fans of the hit show know only too well, Sibongile falls in love with Mpiyakhe Zungu (played by Siyabonga Thwala). But Mpiyakhe has two other wives, Phumelele (Ayanda Borotho) and Siphokazi (Celeste Ntuli) – which would make Sibongile wife number three.
Her complex relationship with Mpiyakhe has become the talk of the town, with the drama often trending on social media. Delving into the polygamy issue has been interesting for Lerato. “Before, I would’ve said ‘hell no’. But my response wouldn’t be so cut and dry about it now. Would I say yes to it? I don’t know.”
“I think for me it’s more about how I’d make the relationship work with the other women. Polygamy isn’t a bad thing.” For example, she adds, she was once in a relationship thinking she was the only one but found out her partner was cheating on her. “So I’d rather be with someone who’s open with me from the beginning and who is open about having a wife. And by doing this he’d be giving me the right to make my own choice.”
Lerato, 36, believes men should be clear about their polygamous beliefs from the start. “It’s only fair – it’s not right to force someone to accept another wife when it wasn’t made clear. Men need to understand it’s not 1901, it’s 2018 – we all have rights.” And broke men shouldn’t even consider polygamy, she adds. “You won’t be able to play your role as a man and take care of these families if you’re still hustling.”
Lerato’s onscreen relationship with Mpiyakhe seems so real fans often wonder if the two are together offscreen as well. And that’s just how Lerato likes it because it means they’re doing their job. “People say things like, ‘Your relationship with Mpiyakhe is electric’ and they ask if we’re dating in real life. But we aren’t. After work he’s got his family, I have mine.
Still, we agreed if we’re going to do this, we’re going to make it believable. I want people to say Mpiyakhe and Sibongile are relationship goals,” she says, laughing. Acting alongside a seasoned actor like Siyabonga was nerve-wracking at first. “The first time I had to kiss him we were both very nervous. He kept making jokes about it and I think he was trying to ease my nerves.”
She was so nervous the first time she kissed him she was worried she’d bite him. “But he said it was okay.” In fact, it was better than okay – it was perfect. “It was good, it was good,” she teases. Lerato might have had a change of heart about polygamy, but she’s involved with her “knight in shining armour” who is very much a one-woman man.
“I’ve met someone and I’m very happy. I’ve healed emotionally and I’m comfortable with myself, where I’m coming from and what I’ve been through.” She was involved with actor Siyabonga Radebe, who was her on-off boyfriend for a while. So is there still a chance he could be on-again? “Hell no,” she says. That ship has sailed.
Her ideal man is someone who appreciates who she is. “I want someone who will love my black bone because I’m not a yellow bone. I don’t have big boobs and I have a big nose. I want someone who will love me for what I am.” And she believes she might have found him, although she’s not ready to talk about the relationship beyond that.
Lerato, who has two daughters, Makayla, 11 and Nkanyezi, 5, has big dreams for the future and has already added being a musician to her CV. Her new track, Sthingthing, has been receiving plenty of airplay. It’s about women tolerating bad behaviour from men, she explains. “I blame other women before us who told us it’s okay for men to cheat on us, to beat us.”
“We allow men to treat us badly. We make excuses for them. And we say as long as he loves me, takes care of me and the kids, it’s okay. But I’ve been cheated on and I got to a point where it had to stop.” Lerato is ready for growth in her career and has a solid base on which to build new ventures. “I think my career is consistent. It has helped me value the work I do and it has kept me humble.”
It’s also helped her understand the value of money and to save in times of plenty. “Our industry has ups and downs. There are people whose careers have been on the up and when it comes down, they don’t know how to handle it.”
She hopes there are many more ups ahead, Lerato says. “I’m approaching 40 and God must make it happen. I’m ready for the very highest of ups.” Which includes her dream of being minister of arts and culture. “As creatives we’re scared to venture into other things and leave the profession. Even when our careers start dwindling, we hold on,” says Lerato, who has a communication science degree from Unisa. The next five years might see her in cabinet, she adds.
“My ancestors m ay start moving things sooner,” she quips. In the meantime, she’s enjoying life to the full. Lerato is building a house for her mother, Nozimanga Mvelase, 63, in KwaZulu-Natal and she just loves being a mother to her beautiful daughters – it’s the most fulfilling and challenging role she’s had. “I am so grateful to God for giving me these beautiful souls.”