He is the character every fan of SABC 1 local drama series Skeem Saam loves.
If you are not rooting for him to succeed, to scramble out of poverty and make his alcoholic father proud, at the very least you are probably hoping life becomes a bit kind to Leshole, who has already faced a lot.
Nonetheless, Skeem Saam’s die-hard fans adore the role Thabo Mkhabela plays, to a point where they sometimes head to Twitter to warn the writers of the drama series to give Leshole a break and a silver lining, some kind of happiness, or else they will boycott the show.
The Citizen took time to talk to Mkhabela.
Dreams of law
When he went to register at the University of Limpopo, he wanted to study law.
“I wanted to be a lawyer, but was sent to the faculty of humanities because there was no space in the law faculty at that time – and eventually I got an acceptance letter for a BA in performing arts,” he said, hinting he didn’t want to take the course, but his mother convinced him otherwise.
“My mom told me I can always switch to law in the next semester but come June, I didn’t want to any more. I was in love with acting and my studies.”
Taking up role
Mkhabela says it was in his final year, in 2015, when he got noticed by veteran actor Putla Sehlapelo, who plays the role of Alfred Marongwa on Skeem Saam.
“He asked for my numbers and later called me to come and audition for Skeem Saam. I got the role, my very first television job.”
The Bushbuckridge-born actor, however, says acting is just a job and the industry is not that simple to get into.
“I’m proud of myself for getting the role and having a talented actor such as Sehlapelo recommend me. I’m enjoying every second of being part of Skeem Saam.”
There were a few hurdles in the beginning, although he managed to grasp what was expected from him without problems.
“The trouble I had was understanding the countdown during my first day and the fact that I wasn’t supposed to look directly at the camera,” he said, laughing.
“I believe the message Leshole is trying to bring across to the people of Mzansi is that of never giving up.”
He added his character has been through a lot, but continues to believe that life will get better.
Attention from fans
Although Mkhabela says he can’t think of any similarities between him and his character, explaining he is fun and loves talking, he nonetheless points out that the attention he gets from his many fans can be overwhelming at times.
“I have noticed that people of different ages love Leshole, hence the struggle to understand that the character and I are two different people.
“They expect me to be overly friendly, which is understandable, but demanding at times.”
Mkhabela says he realises people only know Leshole and not Thabo, and when they see him, they are just happy to see Leshole, despite how Thabo might be feeling that particular day.
“Girls are particularly fussy. They want selfies and don’t understand when you can’t do them. But I appreciate the support.”
Mkhabela says, regardless of how well his role has been received and how much he loves being part of Skeem Saam, he doesn’t see himself still being an actor five or six years from now.
“I want to venture more behind the scenes. Being an actor is stressful and I’ve fallen more in love with directing.”
Fatherhood and romance
The 26-year-old says he is a taken man, who loves his girlfriend, who is not in the entertainment industry. Although he isn’t too sure about marriage right now, he does see himself tying the knot one day.
For now, the one woman he is definitely tied to is his six-year-old daughter. Because he was raised by his mother, he is trying to ensure the same does not happen to his daughter.
“My little girl somehow changed me. She taught me to value time. I value the time I spend with her, even if we are not doing much. Because she lives in Mpumalanga and I’m based in Joburg, time with her is something extremely significant to me.”
Mkhabela says he wishes to teach his daughter the importance of following her heart and wants to allow her to figure out life in her own terms, trusting she will make the right decisions.
“In the black community, parents tend to want to choose the careers their children should follow. I feel it’s important for every black female to be taught that it’s okay to follow your passion.”