Wiseman Zitha on channeling his inner boxer in Musangwe

By Xabiso Ngqabe22 March 2024

Wiseman Zitha on channeling his inner boxer in Musangwe

Fresh from the world premiere at Joburg Film Festival last month, all eyes are on Wiseman Zitha, who packs a mean punch in his portrayal of Takalani in the bare-knuckle boxing film Musangwe.

Takalani Masevhe wants to become a champion boxer but keeps trying to shortcut the process. While visiting his ailing grandmother in Venda, he discovers musangwe, a bare-knuckle boxing competition. Can he take the title, and the love of Lufuno, from Matome, the reigning champ?

Watch the trailer for Musangwe

Produced by The Milton Empire (Intlawulo, Mzali Wam), Musangwe is the debut feature film from Lufuno Nekhabambe, who was part of the SAFTA-winning directing team on Gomora and was also nominated twice for his work on Isithembiso.

Xabiso Ngqabe chats with Zitha, who shares his insights into the world of Musangwe.

What was your initial reaction when you first read the script for this film?

Over the past two years, I felt like I’ve been playing similar roles, so I was looking for something more challenging. Initially, I auditioned for a supporting role. Two days later my agency called to say the producers want to see me for the lead role. Reading the script, the character felt unlike anything I had portrayed before, which motivated me to pursue the role.

What are some of the things your character has taught you?

Honestly, I always say this: every character, despite their differences from us, holds certain traits that resonate with us deeply. I like the fact that he’s a go-getter and as much as everyone tells him to give up, his determination pushes him to persist. I also feel like most South Africans will resonate with him, particularly because of his daddy-issues which I picked up while reading. This is also very close to me because I was raised by a single mother.

Did you undergo any specific training or research to embody the character of a boxer?

Growing up in Venda, I’ve witnessed musangwe fights before. My stepdad took me to some when I was young. Unlike boxing, musangwe doesn’t require much technique; you just fight. I’m grateful for TME’s support; they provided stunt people who taught me various skills.  As an actor, I strive to be proud of my work, so even when I’m not on set, I’d go to the office to learn boxing. Although I’ve been going to the gym primarily for lifting, they taught me to incorporate boxing into my workouts to get into the rhythm of it.

What was the atmosphere like on set during the filming of Musangwe? Any memorable moments you can share with us?

Being on set for this film was so much fun. I had previously worked with Tiisetso Thoka in the series Umbali and with the Muvhango actors during my two-year stint on the show. Although I hadn’t met Millicent Makhado before, I knew her work. I remember we met for the first time for table reads and everything was smooth. 

Musangwe is on Showmax

It was also great to work with a director (Lufuno Nekhabambe) whom I’ve known from Giyani – Land of Blood for two seasons. Working with someone you trust and who knows that you’re capable of pushing boundaries makes the experience truly amazing.

Were there any particular scenes or challenges during the shoot that stood out to you? Anything you had to do for the first time as an actor?

Boxing is hard! I’d say that was my challenge – boxing. However, God somehow puts things in front of you so that when the time is right you’re able to access them. Just three months prior to filming Musangwe, I portrayed a boxer, Philip Ndou, in the Mzansi Magic docu-series Time Bomb – The Incredible Story of Phillip Ndou. While I didn’t physically box in the series, I gained insights into boxing. Transitioning from that project directly into Musangwe made the process smoother.

Musangwe on Showmax

The most difficult part for me was during the last two days of filming when I fell ill with flu. Despite not feeling well, I pushed through, taking breaks to drink lemon water between takes. I shot most of my scenes shirtless, but the production team supported me throughout. 

Acting in one’s home language can bring a unique authenticity to a performance. How easy or exciting was it for you to act in your native language for this film?

Interestingly, Venda isn’t even my native language. I’m Tsonga, but I was raised in Venda. It was nice as I had to use certain words to infuse authenticity into the character. This way, viewers from Venda would feel truly represented. My aim was to make the character relatable, especially to the kids who will be watching.

What do you hope viewers take away from the film?

I want people to understand that you can achieve whatever you set your mind to. If you want something, you go for it. In the movie, you’ll notice a theme where speaking your intentions into the universe leads to fruition. The character’s determination to win the musangwe reflects this principle; he speaks of victory and ultimately achieves it.

As Musangwe made its world premiere at the Joburg Film Festival, how do you feel about the film’s journey and the opportunity to showcase it to a wider audience?

Oh my God! This has always been a dream for me. I’ve never been to a film festival before, so having an interview with the Joburg Film Festival this morning was incredibly exciting. I believe this is just the start of something wonderful. It takes courage to entrust someone who hasn’t led a feature film before with such a role, and I’m grateful that it turned out well.

What’s the one thing that kept you awake during this shoot?

It was the fact that this is a Showmax Original film! The only title I did which is on the platform is The River. So I kept thinking I have to make it work because this is the biggest platform. While working with giants (Tshedza Pictures) on The River was significant, being the lead in a film placed my name at the forefront. I constantly reminded myself that I had to go beyond expectations.

Musangwe is now streaming on Showmax.

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