Chris Q Radebe on his Isibaya journey

By Xabiso Ngqabe12 April 2021

Chris Q Radebe on his Isibaya journey

After eight years on our small screens, Mzansi Magic’s much-loved telenovela Isibaya has come to an end.

On 2 April 2021 the long-running show gracefully bowed out of primetime television. The last episode was a bittersweet moment not only for viewers but especially for the cast and crew of the multi-award-winning series.

To understand the essence of what Isibaya meant to its cast and crew, we spoke to the show’s head writer and cast member Chris Q Radebe.

Chris never saw himself as an actor but for the last two years he has come to embrace his role as Chief Dabula. And. according to him, the process was intimidating yet interesting at the same time.

You started as a writer on the show and Angus Gibson, the executive producer at Bomb Productions, convinced you to act the role of Dabula. What made you decide to do it?

While I was writing Abomama, I bumped into Angus Gibson, who was a supervising producer for the show at the time. I remember Angus calling me into his office and he started taking pictures of me. 

A few months later he said he had this role for me on Isibaya. I’m terrified of failure, so I didn’t want to agree to something and then do a terrible job at it. But Angus assured me that I’d be okay.

He first gave me a role on Isithembiso, which is a smaller platform than Isibaya. I was nervous about the role as well, but being on Isithembiso was less daunting than being on Isibaya.

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The character was going to die within five episodes. The death of the character piqued my interest as I’ve always wanted to play a character that was going to die on TV.

I asked how my character was going to die and Angus said the character was going to be killed by the mob. For that reason, I agreed. After filming Isithembiso, I realised how much I enjoyed playing the role – I even became emotional when my character died. So after that, Angus was more convinced than ever that I was the right guy for the Isibaya role.

My biggest compliment was when I met the late Menzi Ngubane and he said, “Chris Q Radebe is the best chief Isibaya has ever had.”

What would you say was the most challenging thing about portraying Dabula? 

I knew that so many eyes would be on me because Dabula was not just a cameo role. He was a significant character in the storyline, as he played the role of a chief.

I thought about the guys who played the role before – the likes of Vusi Kunene and the late Andile Gumbi. I knew I had big shoes to fill. I kept asking Angus and Desiree if they were sure that I was the right person for this role.

I eventually went there and did my thing and thankfully everything fell into place. My biggest compliment was when I met the late Menzi Ngubane and he said, “Chris Q Radebe is the best chief Isibaya has ever had.” He even bowed in front of me. After that, I’ve just been confident that I’m doing the right thing.

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Isibaya started a culture of telling Mzansi stories differently. Did you have a traditional advisor helping you throughout, especially with storylines that involved tradition?

If there is one thing I appreciate about Bomb Productions, it’s how thorough they are and how eager they are to get things right. There’s a joke that Des and Angus are Zulu because they have relationships with many people in KwaZulu-Natal.

We had all kinds of advisors. Angus is interested in things I should be interested in as a Zulu man and I’m not. He makes me feel like I’m not Zulu enough. They are so thorough when they research because they want to get the nuances right. 

The Isibaya crew is also the best in the business by far and it’s all because of how Angus and Des care about the crew.

Do you think long-term or short-term when creating these characters in your writing process?

Characters grow all the time. Qondi’s character, for instance, was meant to be there for only six episodes and next thing you know, she’s there for nearly seven seasons.

I came in as head writer in the middle of Season 8 and I already knew that the show was coming to an end. But I looked at this like, “just keep on doing your thing.”

Writing the last episode was an absolute nightmare in my life. I lost my nephew the day after Christmas and we wanted to finish filming at the end of January. While people were mourning in one room, I was writing in the next. So I didn’t have the time to feel that it was the end. I didn’t have the time to go through the emotions. I was going through the motions, not the emotions.

When I finished filming and they announced that it’s a picture wrap for Dabula, I remember how emotional I felt. I was shooting with Asavela Mngqithi , whom I loved on the show. I remember Asavela hugging me and I said “stop that” because I didn’t want to be emotional. I was afraid I was going to relive those moments I was trying to suppress while I was writing. 

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I had grown to love every member of the crew. I love these guys so much that I know every one of them and their birthdays. 

What’s next for you?

I’m also looking forward to seeing what I do next. I’m working on a drama series for Mzansi Magic – that’s all I can say for now. I’m doing a lot of things and I can’t wait to see how they play out. I’m also looking forward to playing a role that’s different from Dabula.

If you’re feeling nostalgic about all the great moments on Isibaya, Season 1-8 of the telenovela is available to binge on Showmax.

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