Masabata and the cult of control in Lockdown
In season 4 of Lockdown, actress Nthati Moshesh gives viewers an object lesson in how to take control as cult leader Masabata. Without money, without power of authority, without violence and without sexuality, through the course of the season Masabata will bring Thabazimbi Women’s Correctional Facility under her sway until people are willing to kill, die or literally be baptised in blood for her.
“With the explosion of self-styled prophets such as Shepherd Bushiri making news headlines, the timing could not have been more perfect for me to play a spiritual leader today,” says Nthati. “Hopefully, this role will open up even more dialogue about the religious state of our country. It is very scary how easily swayed people are.”
Taking three characters who fall under her spell, just look at how Lockdown makes it real.
As a racist, middle-aged remnant of the old South Africa, Sue (Patricia Boyer) has no friends in prison. But Masabata has her donning a headdress made of a blanket tied on with a plastic bread bag and learning all the words to the song Bawo Thuma Mina.
Masabata’s reputation and the respect, awe and fear people seem to have for her plays into Sue’s fascination with serial killers and cult leaders, but when Masabata tells her that her cult is “a church for the wounded souls and God’s lost flock”, Sue sees an opportunity for acceptance and the chance to have her “wounded soul” recognised – a form of self-pity that appeals to her narcissism. Even after Sue tells Masabata proudly that she once poisoned a baby, Masabata tells her that everybody is welcome in her church.
Masabata mines singer Monde (Zola Nombona) for information about her relationship with her sister after overhearing her complain that Katlego (Natasha Thahane) has been begging her for a song. After she manipulates Monde into giving Katlego what she wants, she acts as Monde’s messenger and makes sure to tell Katlego “I’m the reason for what’s about to happen today.” She claims for herself the gratitude that Katlego actually owes Monde. No matter what Monde does to help Katlego from then on, Masabata claims the credit for herself and the will of her God.
Masabata also tells the neglected younger sister repeatedly that she is beautiful, until Katlego gets in the habit of believing whatever Masabata tells her … and doing whatever Masabata tells her to do.
When fearsome assassin and drug lord Maki (Linda Sebezo) hits her lowest low and the entire prison is laughing at her, Masabata finally approaches her to demonstrate her powers. She tells Maki three times that she is God’s messenger. Then she claims that three people will die and, although she’s blind, Masabata tells Maki that one of them will die with their face covered in cuts.
But it’s easy to make prophecies when you instruct your followers to make events happen as you predicted. And when Katlego is seen rolling up metal shavings inside a facecloth, cut up faces will follow. Masabata knows people, and in Maki, she sees someone who will only believe once she has stuck her hands in the wounds and felt blood – which is why she mentions the biblical Doubting Thomas when she approaches her.
Patient as a spider
With the patience to observe and to play people by finding out who they are, what they need and what they want, Masabata weaves her web until she gains a reputation for being supernaturally in touch. It’s an easy way to convince her desperate followers that when they do what she wants, they are doing what God wants.
Binge all four seasons of Lockdown on Showmax, and delve into these fascinating characters.