20 February 2023

Interview: DiepCity star Zikhona Bali tackles tough challenges

Actress Zikhona Bali is here to challenge us. First, as the lead character Lerato in drama movie Lakutshon’Ilanga (When The Sun Sets), and then she’ll have you in tears as the tragic title character in the movie Thando … and the sun is only just rising on this star on Showmax, who is best known for her role as Asanda in telenovela DiepCity.

“I filmed these so long ago – but they’re still culturally and socially relevant,” says Zikhona. “It’s great that they’re both on the Showmax platform now and that people can either re-watch these movies or watch them for the first time. They’re timeless because they focus on situations and things that aren’t just still happening to this day, they’ve been happening for centuries. And they will happen for a long time to come too!”

Read on as Zikhona reveals why these projects are so close to her heart.

Thando: To protect the innocent

In Thando, Zikhona plays a high school girl who’s bullied and battered. She ends up falling into the world of blessers, which only leads her further down the path of destruction. “Bullying happens today. It’s not even just a school situation,” says the actress. “Parents, adults get bullied too. This is a horrible thing but it’s here and it’s not going to leave us any time soon. So, telling this story is important.”

Zikhona wants the movie to inspire dialogue between parents and their children. “It needs to be addressed. You don’t just wake up and bully people. I want people to talk about what causes bullying, to nip it in the bud, and fix issues. This isn’t just for children – this movie is for everyone. We need to unpack the emotions we experience and try to work out why this happens. There must be a transparent relationship and communication channel so we can stop bullies and get them help too, because they’re not okay. Bullies are hurting too, and they need help.”

Lakutshon’Ilanga: The real deal

Set around 1985, Lakutshon’Ilanga tells the story of Apartheid-era nurse Lerato who is the guardian and caregiver for her two younger siblings … when one of her brothers gets dragged into the political war and doesn’t come home from school one day.

“I met with the director Phumi (Morare), and this is her family story. I’m playing her mother, so there was no need to create a character. It was interesting for me because I’ve never played a real person, so while there was creative space to create and develop this person, I’ve also got references to build on,” says the actress.

While she hasn’t met the real Lerato yet, Zikhona says that Phumi’s hands-on, direct information made it easy to play Lerato. “Actors don’t like to be closed off. We need space and freedom to tell the story, which as it turns out, is a real-life, truthful and accurate story.”

Heavy ground, light heart

Zikhona adds that one of the best things about being on both productions was how safe, secure and shielded she felt pre-production, during filming, and post-production. “We were taken care of emotionally, physically and psychologically. We always felt like we were being cared for, taken care of and looked after. The content in both movies is heavy, it’s taxing and you can easily find yourself going down an emotional spiral that takes you into dark places. I’ve been fortunate to stay in contact with my co-stars and the directors and some of the crew. We’re like family and it’s important to have that sense of worth, to feel not only that you belong somewhere but also that you’re wanted and needed, and that people care for you. That feeling will never go away,” she says.

Zikhona is plenty busy when she’s not on set: she’s branched out into farming, and when we spoke to her, she was on the way to her chicken farm. “It’s exciting and it’s been some time in development. I love this new outlet in my life and it’s a business that I’m hoping will grow and go from strength to strength,” she says.

More top picks starring Zikhona Bali

Thato Ya Modimo

You’ll also see Zikhona in Showmax movie Thato Ya Modimo, where she plays Cindy, whose best friend, Neo, passes away, leaving Cindy to help raise Neo’s baby, along with Neo’s husband, Libo.

However, while Cindy tries to plan her wedding, the decision to help raise baby Thato throws her and Libo on a journey that might change the course of their lives forever.


Zikhona also stars in telenovela DiepCity. Season 1 is currently streaming on Showmax, with 10 new episodes landing on Fridays.

Created and directed by SAFTA nominee Mandla N, and produced by Black Brain (who gave us the multi-award winning drama Lockdown), DiepCity centres on a group of disillusioned young women who were forced into crime while in high school, just to make ends meet.

The series was the joint most-awarded title overall at the 2022 SAFTAs, winning five awards – the most of any telenovela, including Best Telenovela and Most Popular Soap or Telenovela – with a further four nominations, including Best Supporting Actor for previous SAFTA winner Obed Baloyi (Ga re Dumele, Giyani). The show also boasts seven wins at 2021 Royalty Soapie Awards, including Outstanding Daily Drama.

Zikhona stars alongside Kgaogelo Monama (Lockdown), Nozuko Ncayiyane (Scandal!) and newcomer Nompumelelo Vilakazi.

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