The 28-year-old model was bowled over by her beauty and he followed her to her car, determined to get her number. Despite his good looks and ripped body the object of his affection shrugged off her suitor. As a seasoned actress on one of Mzansi’s most-loved soaps Phindile Gwala was used to being hit on by men interested in her fame so she wasn’t taking any chances. “I struggled with dating, especially when I started acting.

Men would sometimes approach me because they saw me on TV and they wanted me to be the token girlfriend,” the former Muvhango actress tells DRUM. When Armando introduced himself she didn’t even give him her number because she wasn’t sure if he was being genuine. “I dated someone for over two years and every time he did something wrong and I would cry about it he would say, ‘Uyabona ke manje, usuqala uku actor (You see, now you’re starting with the acting).” Eventually she found it difficult to express her feelings in a relationship because men see a celebrity and not a real woman who needs love.

Armando, however, was unaware of Phindile’s celebrity status and thought he’d never see her again. But when a mutual friend told him she was an actress on Muvhango Armando rushed to look for her on social media and got her number. “Things happened really fast and we found ourselves dating after two weeks,” Phindile (30) says with a smile. Two years later Armando’s persistence has paid off – he’s paid lobola for Phindile and last month he made their engagement official when he went down on bended knee to propose to her.

Phindile, best known for her role as Nonny on Muvhango, can’t stop smiling as the couple opens up to DRUM about their recent engagement. “A month into the relationship I realised he was a godsend because he was kind, genuine and loving,” she gushes. “I felt he was the one. I can’t explain it – I felt like my soul was rising.” Dating the model, who was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, put her at ease.

 “Other guys were concerned about what I looked like and if my hair was right. They wanted to be seen with a celebrity but he didn’t care about my celebrity status.” She’s the happiest she’s been in ages but Phindile reveals she had doubts when Armando discussed paying lobola for her. “I questioned whether he was sure because we’d only been dating for two years.” He loved her the minute he saw her, a smiling Armando says, his voice soft with a French accent. “I didn’t try too hard to fall for Phindile and I had been in love before but loving her felt different.”

 In December last year he paid lobola. “I thought after the lobola we would just go ahead and find a date for the wedding day,” she says. But Armando had a big surprise in store. A RMANDO, who was raised in a religious family, felt Phindile was a blessing in his life and decided to propose to her. “I had properly planned the day and thought it through,” he says.

“I wanted to make it really special because asking someone to marry you is a big deal because you have to spend the rest of your life with them.” Phindile had no idea of Armando’s plans when he took her to the trendy Pappas on the Square restaurant in Sandton.

 “He told me he’d bought me something so I thought it was just a watch or earrings,” she recalls. “When he went on his knee and put the ring on the wrong hand in front of an entire restaurant I broke down in tears.”

She couldn’t wait to share the news with her 11-year-old daughter, Thato. She’d kept her relationship secret to protect Thato, whose father died in a car crash when she was a baby. “I didn’t want to confuse her by introducing her to every guy I dated because I’m raising a princess,” Phindile says. “Armando was the first male to come into my house.” When she eventually introduced them to each other the pair hit it off.

“My daughter could see I loved him. She even started calling him daddy.”

As a father to two-year-old Lola from a previous relationship Armando says fatherhood comes naturally to him. They’re eager to grow their family after their wedding but Phindile reveals not everyone is happy about their relationship. “Sometimes people comment on my social media saying, ‘Why would you leave thousands of South African men for a foreigner? We are going to bring back xenophobia’.”

 These remarks used to hurt her but she “got over it”. She realised people were jealous of her happiness. “This is the first time I’ve experienced this type of love and trust,” she says, “He calls me because he misses me and not to check up on what I’m doing and who I’m with. I trust him – he’s my twin, my other half and since I met this guy I don’t stress.”

Moving to South Africa 10 years ago for better employment opportunities was tough for Armando, who could barely speak English at the time. “It was also hard for my parents to accept because home is so far away but as time went by I managed to convince them,” he recalls.

He’d studied IT back home but gained experience in the restaurant business when he moved to SA. “I know what it takes to run a club and about food because I’ve been a waiter, barman and a host at clubs.”

He was introduced to the modelling world by his brother Jason Ngandu, a model who also lives in SA. Armando, who is signed to Boss Models and has walked the ramp at SA Fashion Week among other things, laughs as he recalls getting a R50 000 pay cheque when he was 18.

“I was so excited to receive so much money – I didn’t know what to do with it and I blew it.” These days he knows how to work with his money. Last year Armando and Phindile opened Lotha’s, their car-wash and shisa-nyama business in Wynberg, Joburg.

After quitting Muvhango last year Phindile says she now has more time to concentrate on her priorities. “I wanted growth and Muvhango was taking up most of my time. I worked from 6am to 6pm and I hardly had time for my family.”

The actress, who stars in the forthcoming movie Looking for Love, says acting in movies and theatre gives her the freedom to focus on her two other passions: family and business. And she’s combined the two, she reveals. “We’ve registered Ngandu Productions and we’ll be producing films, adverts and TV-related work.

Armando really encourages me to go for my dreams and to not allow anything to hold me back.” It seems Phindile has met her perfect match!