Rising star Toka Matabane on his breakthrough role in Youngins

By Xabiso Ngqabe5 March 2024

Rising star Toka Matabane on his breakthrough role in Youngins

Toka Matabane made his screen debut in the acclaimed film Five Fingers For Marseilles in 2016, when he was just a teenager. He’s now back on Showmax in Youngins, the first teen drama from Tshedza (Adulting, Outlaws, The River). 

In his biggest role yet, Toka plays Khaya Jali, the handsome, popular guy at school, who is dating it-girl Buhle (Kealebogo Masango). But the truth is that while Khaya is a natural athlete, he is dismal when it comes to academics and has a tumultuous family life.  

Xabiso Ngqabe caught up with the 22-year-old to find out more about his role on the Showmax Original, which CityPress hailed as a “nerve-wrecking drama that will keep you on the edge of your seat.” 

How would you describe your character, Khaya?

Khaya is not the sharpest tool in the shed but what I like about him is that he follows his gut. He’s an impulsive guy: Khaya throws himself in the deep end and he just swims out. He’s that guy. 

Would you say you were like Khaya in high school?

Definitely. I was like Khaya in high school, popular with everyone, talented in football and the arts as well. The only difference is that I was actually, you know, a smart kid; I had good grades. Otherwise, we’re quite similar in many ways.

How did you and Kea ensure that Khaya and Buhle had great chemistry on camera?

Kealeboga and I get along very well. We met at the chemistry test and in between auditions we’d talk about general stuff, which I think made us get along even more. So when we finally started working together on Youngins, our chemistry just flowed. I think it’s also because we discussed a few things in terms of how far we’d push it. It was something that was done almost effortlessly.

Toka Mtabane as Khaya in Red Ink

What’s the best advice you’ve received from some of the more seasoned actors on Youngins? 

I remember we had a cast meeting and Loyiso Macdonald said to us, “Always greet the crew. Always greet the crew.” 

The other advice we received from the older actors was that we shouldn’t be difficult people to work with – it’s a long run and you want to build a career that you want to be able to sustain. But in the same breath, you don’t want to turn yourself into a doormat and have people walk all over you. That’s what they always preach and I think it’s very useful advice; it’s something I always keep at the back of my head. We read stories about people who come and go, so you try your best not to go that direction.

What’s the one thing that made you nervous while on set?

I don’t really get nervous. When I first arrived on set, I made sure that I familiarised myself with everyone – and read energies. However, sometimes I do get nervous when it’s time to actually go for a take and make the right choices when it comes to bettering my performance, but for me that’s good nerves, you know? 

Any memorable moments on set with the younger cast members?

I’ve had a lot of great memories with them; they’re very good folks. I’ve built a lot of great relationships. I had known Ayakha from In The Dark, which we did together.  The other ones, such as Thabiso and Kea, I’ve been watching them on TV. I was like, ‘Oh, okay. These are very talented people and I’d like to work with them.’ So, when I saw them, I said, ‘Oh yeah, my people! It’s finally happening.’

Youngins S1 on Showmax

What do you hope viewers take from this show?

South Africans are known to be a very diverse people but there’s a little bit of everyone in the various storylines so I feel like it’s going to cater to South Africa as a whole. There’s a lot of characters to hate; there’s a lot of characters to love; there’s a lot of characters that you’re going to love to hate. 

But most importantly, South Africa should take away the fact that people make mistakes and it’s not about the mistakes, it’s about the comebacks. It’s not about what you did; it’s about how you move on from it. I mean, it’s a Youngins show. Most people have taken decisions in their youth that they’re stuck with now. So it’s going to shed some light into that in terms of talking to the kids…

Binge the first 12 episodes of Youngins on Showmax now, with new episodes every Thursday.

Youngins S1: Gaslight
Youngins S1, now streaming