The Wife: 8 things to know about Bonko Khoza

7 February 2022

The Wife: 8 things to know about Bonko Khoza

Since Showmax’s hit original telenovela The Wife started airing in November last year, the name that’s been on everyone’s lips and the Twitter trending list every Thursday morning is taxi driver Mqhele Zulu (played by Bonko Khoza). That’s because Mqhele has risen as the telenovela’s anti-hero.

Update: Want to know more? Watch the behind-the-scenes special The Wife: Behind the Veil. Plus, binge all of Season 1 and 2 of The Wife on Showmax.

When we met Mqhele, he appeared a sweet and charming man, especially to his love interest Hlomu (Mbali Mavimbela). He went out of his way to win her heart but after days of dating, Mqhele quickly turned into an obsessive and physically abusive stalker lover who’s trying to control Hlomu at every turn. “Mqhele is such an enigma. One minute he’s loving towards Hlomu, and the next, he beats her. As their love story progresses, we get a better understanding of Mqhele’s dark past and the effects it has on his life,” explains Bonko. 

Bonko Khoza with author Dudu Busani-Dube at The Wife cast screening
Bonko Khoza with author Dudu Busani-Dube at The Wife cast screening on 10 November 2021

By the end of The Wife, Hlomu has had enough of Mqhele’s toxic traits, and she cheats on him, which further destroys their already strained marriage. With the sequel telenovela, Zandile The Resolute starting on Thursday, 17 February this year, Mqhele and Hlomu’s marriage will continue to unravel and there’s no telling if they survive another season together…

For now, let’s get to know Bonko, who became an overnight sensation, just like his character.

Here are 8 facts about Bonko Khoza

  • Bonko was born on 13 August 1991 in Johannesburg, where he also completed his high school at the National School of Arts.
  • He explains that he realised that he could act by accident. When he was in matric, he was cast as an extra in a friend’s school play and on the day of the performance, the lead actor was in no-show. “Considering that I knew his lines, my friend asked me to fill in for the missing actor and I did it. After the play, I won an award for Best Actor,” explains 31-year-old Bonko.
  • Even after receiving an accolade for his acting skills, Bonko wasn’t totally convinced that he could succeed in showbiz. He enrolled to study Design and Multimedia at Johannesburg’s Vega School in 2011, but he soon dropped out. He then studied BA Communication Design at the University of Johannesburg a year after, and months later, he quit his studies again. “I didn’t enjoy both courses. So I spent the rest of [2012] self-introspecting. I thought: ‘What is the one thing that you want to do for the rest of your life?’ Sure, I enjoyed drawing and directing films, but acting always came out on top.”
  • Bonko eventually took the bold step and studied Drama and Performance at The Market Theatre Laboratory in 2012-2014. “Being on stage was inexplainable feeling. I am a Leo, so I like attention. The stage is the one place I can perform, express myself and tell stories,” says Bonko.
  • His acting break was in 2015 when he portrayed Jabz in critically acclaimed drama film Neckie Youth, which earned him a nomination for Best Actor at the Tribeca Film Festival in the same year.
  • Bonko is an accomplished voice-over artist, and he has voiced adverts for DStv, Nedbank and Vodacom.
  • In 2021 he tied the knot with actress Lesego Khoza, who played Lindiwe in BET’s telenovela Isono. “The great part about being married to an actress is that we’re involved in each other’s careers. Lesego and I always help each other before auditions. In my self-tape for The Wife, you can hear her voice in the background, reading with me,” explains Bonko.
  • While preparing to play Mqhele, Bonko admits that he tapped into method acting. “I struggled to connect with Mqhele as we’re worlds apart. So, I lived like a taxi driver weeks before we started filming the telenovela,” says Bonko, adding that he wandered around taxi ranks and hung out with taxi drivers to model their gestures. “I put in a lot of psychological and physical preparation to play Mqhele. I exercised a great deal, I slept late, and I woke up early like a taxi driver. Because we are filming more than 100 episodes, I wanted Mqhele to fit like a glove. I didn’t want to figure him out along on the way. Now, I understand him like he is a friend of mine.”

Bonko Khoza on The Wife: “You’re going to see the crime and the dark underworld”

Bonko says that fans of the book shouldn’t think they know what’s going to happen in the telenovela. “Fans can look forward to seeing the Hlomu The Wife that they know and love, but expanded and more colourful. It’s come to life in ways that even surprised us as actors and fans who’ve read and loved the book. For an example, in the book, most of the time you don’t know where Mqhele goes. When he leaves the house, you’re always seeing it from Hlomu’s perspective, like he’s not coming home. But now in the series, you get to see where he is, you get to see what he’s getting up to. You’re going to see the crime. That dark underworld that we suspect in the book, you’re really going to get to be a part of in the series, that dark world that Hlomu is so afraid of.” 

He says Mqhele’s relationship with Hlomu remains the centre of the story, though. “It’s been so much fun working with Mbalenhle; she’s an amazing actress,” he says. “The chemistry has been great.”

He took a method acting approach to the role – “where you are living in the character for a period of time…” He explains: “It’s quite a niche world, the taxi industry. You can’t half-arse something that’s so specific. So for about a month or so, I spent a lot of time at the taxi rank and played a lot of guitar and smoked a lot. I bought my own prop gun and carried it on me to see how that feels. I woke up at about three a.m. and just kept myself busy and got home very late and got to bed very late, so that I could feel Mqhele’s tiredness.”

Watch the extended trailer

He acknowledges the unprecedented debate that met the casting of those eight sexy skebengas, the Zulu brothers. “There is a huge following for the book series. You could tell that when the show got announced and everyone had their own cast. I was like, ‘Okay, this book is big, right?’ And I don’t blame the readers for having their own imagination, because that’s what a book really does, right? A book engages your imagination. So it’s totally understandable that everyone had imagined their own story or how it played out, and everyone’s imagination is totally valid. In fact, even after the series, whatever Mqhele or Nkosana that you saw is still valid. We’re not here to nullify your imagination or say that you’re wrong? No.”

The Wife on Showmax ep12

Instead, he calls the telenovela “a whole other beast… that expands the story into a different medium, which means it’s going to need a whole bunch of new elements.” 

The biggest debate was over the casting of Mqhele’s family, the Zulu brothers: Kwenzo Ngcobo (Imbewu) as Qhawe; Sipho Ndlovu (Isibaya, The Queen) as Sambulo; SAFTA winner Abdul Khoza (Isibaya, Kings of Joburg) as Nqoba; Mondli Makhoba (Umkhokha, Generations, Imbewu) as Nkosana; SAFTA nominee Thulane Nkululeko Shange (Is’thunzi, iNumber Number) as Mqoqi; Ishmauel Songo (Rhythm City, Tsotsi) as Mpande; and Swelihle Luthuli (eHostela) as Ntsika. 

“They are like real brothers to me”

While it was never going to be possible to find eight identical, bug-eyed Zulu brothers, as described in the book, Bonko believes they’re perfectly cast. “Not in the sense of looks but just in terms of energy – and that’s really something hard to get right. We all gel. We all respect each other, and we’re all willing to help each other to get to wherever the one needs to get to for the scene or for the work and to be there for each other outside of the work. We have formed a really powerful bond. We spend most weekends together; we look out for each other. My big brother Nkosana, Mondli Makhoba, is really a big brother to me. Kwenzo, Sipho, Abdul, Thulane, Ishmauel and Swelihle, they are like real brothers to me.” 

He can’t wait for fans to finally see the show and fall in love with the beloved characters all over again, in new ways. “I don’t think SA has seen anything like this; I don’t think they’ve made anything like this before. It looks beautiful, man. So Mzansi just has to strap on a seat belt and hold tight. It’s going to be a crazy trip.” 

The Wife on Showmax ep25-27

Showmax has commissioned three seasons, inspired by Dudu’s books Hlomu the Wife, Zandile the Resolute, and Naledi His Love respectively. The books follow the lives of the eight Zulu brothers, a formidable crime family, through the eyes of the wives they marry.

Produced by Stained Glass (eHostela, Uzalo, Ifalakhe), The Wife is the eighth South African Showmax Original released in 2021, following on from record breakers like the true-crime phenomenon Devilsdorp and Babes Wodumo and Mampintsha’s reality series Uthando Lodumo, as well as critically acclaimed scripted series like DAM, Skemerdans and Tali’s Baby Diary and ever-popular reality series like Temptation Island South Africa S1 and Life With Kelly Khumalo S2.  

Binge-watch Mqhele and Hlomu’s rollercoaster romance in The Wife on Showmax and Zandile The Resolute – all episodes are streaming. Season 3 landing on 10 November 2022.

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