She burst onto our screens as an energetic, bubbly and passionate actress over a decade ago. It did not take long for Manaka Ranaka to endear viewers to her, as many related to the realness of her character at the time, Nandipha Sithole in Isidingo. The role was later played by Hlubi Mboya.
Fast forward 12 years and Ranaka has earned her acting industry stripes with a SAFTA award under her belt and a bevy of drama roles to her name. Ranaka joins the cast of e.tv's flagship soapie Rhythm City in what may be her most challenging role to date, playing wife Zanele Kgaditse to the soap’s resident new villain, Rocks Kgaditse.
Ranaka’s acting credits are highly impressive, after Isidingo she moved on to secure roles in SABC 1’s Gazlam and Tshisa drama series. However, the role which won her a SAFTA award and which she played for over five years is Lerata in comedy Stokvel. Ranaka made the role her own, entertaining millions as she vigorously tackled her character. DestinyConnect caught up with the actress to discuss her new role, future projects and more.
We first came to know of you 12 years ago as Nandipha in Isidingo, what did you take from that experience?
It was a business decision on Isidingo’s part to let me go (Ranaka was released from her contract after falling pregnant). I didn’t want to be labelled, I could have taken them to task and taken the matter to court but I didn’t want to have that chip on my shoulder. I learnt that in this industry you are as good as your last job and wherever you go you must make a good impression. So I make it a point to work hard, do my best and leave a good impression on each production I work on.
Having years of industry experience, what have you learnt so far?
I learnt to keep strong, to believe in myself enough and to carry on despite disappointment. There is a lot of rejection in this industry but it's important to keep going and persevere.
What can viewers expect you to bring in your new role as Zanele?
I have never played a role as a powerful wife as part of a power couple. Before I got it, I had gone to audition for Mawande’s role in Generations. My mom did my hair for the audition and it didn’t go well. I was so heartsore because I so badly wanted to do a soapie after Stokvel. When the Zanele role came along, I went to it without any make-up and funnily enough, I got it. I am grateful for this role, it came at the right time. I am blessed to be working with Neo Matsunyane someone I watched as a kid. We also have great chemistry, it's so painful to work with someone when there isn't any chemistry! (laughs). It worked out perfectly.
You're one of those actresses who are fortunate enough to always be busy. What do you attribute this to?
That is true, but it's because God plays a huge role in my life and coming from humble beginnings I strive to be the best. I think hard work and preparation plays a huge role. I have seen people unprepared on set, a lot of celebs act like that and don’t realise that being famous isn't going to pay the bills. You are as good as your last job. It's important to keep in touch and build relationships with your contacts and agent. One thing I have learnt is that those actors who keep in contact with their agents and call often are the ones who get the benefit of the doubt. I also have a great support system and everything I do is for my kids. (Ranaka has two daughters).
How do you juggle being a mom with the hectic shooting schedules?
It’s a tough one. I'm not married, I’m a single mother. My eldest daughter helps with my dialogues and my younger one has just learned how to read and write. If you're that much in love with your kids, you can do anything. When I am doing it, it doesn’t seem that hard, but luckily I work a five day week and weekends are for myself and the girls.
Many actors struggle with viewers not being able to separate their characters from who they really are. Has this happened to you and how do you deal with it?
I really hate that! When Michael Jackson came to SA no one called him “beat it” or even when Tom Cruise comes no one will call him “Mr last Samurai” (laughs). I remember once a fan insisted on calling me Lerata and I was like “no I am Manaka”. When the credits roll or in the opening sequence, it's my name that you see there. When I went to a school once, one of the standard five (grade seven) pupils said something derogatory about my Gazlam character. I took him to the principal’s office to have him disciplined because that disrespect has filtered down to the kids even.
Are you able to distinguish yourself from the characters you play?
Totally! I definitely can and have had no problems with that. (laughs).
You rarely hit the tabloids, what does ensuring that your brand is respected and remains intact mean to you?
I am morally inclined and refuse to do disgusting things to get attention unlike some people. I am working extremely hard to gain respect. I look up to Connie Masilo (Ferguson) who has built her brand from when Generations started and she has managed to maintain and build it from working on daytime television.
You were on Stokvel for years, what will you miss the most about your former role?
I am going to miss Cape Town because that is where it was shot and I'm going to miss the cast, directors, actors and producers. Part of the reason why we won best ensemble cast so many times is because we had a great team. It was the longest running sitcom in SA! I learnt so much from the people there, we had M'am Thembi who was like my mom away from home and Joe Mafela. I collected so many blessings from my elders, without them I would not be where I am today. I am also going to miss exploring my funny bone, many people say I should do stand up comedy but I can’t! (laughs) I would get stage fright for the first time in my life!
Are there any projects that you are working on at the moment?
My sister, Dineo and I are working on growing the Ranaka brand, we are busy with our own reality show which we will pitch to local TV stations. We want to do proudly South African shows, for us by us. It's important for us to tell and produce our own stories.