Every once in a while, the actors on our favourite television shows give us unforgettable performances that force you to gawk in awe of their skills and how they apply those to their roles and Tsholofelo Matshaba (as Rakgadi Kedibone) has once again proven that when an actor understands the nuances of their character, what emerges is nothing short of amazing.

When The River introduced Kedibone, her role was as a matriarchal figure for her family, and out of all the mother archetypes that have been displayed on South African television, this portrayal is by far the most nuanced and silently brilliant performances we’ve seen in a while.

Although Matshaba has been diligently applying herself to her role, on 16 June 2020, the show introduced a love interest for Kedibone and that storyline not only galvanized the country, it also proved that Matshaba understood what it meant to portray an in-love, middle-aged woman with a haunted past and nothing more than a gram of optimism in her life. 

Many actors often fall victim to the trope of the giddy and unnecessarily loud characterisations of romance – which can be good or bad depending on the genre and because long-form dramas tend to give their characters fleeting storylines, it’s the actor’s prerogative to ground their time in the frontline on choices that will ensure that their character’s traits remain intact while they deliver powerful performances.

Matshaba gets this and she always ensures that she goes beyond the script. She has a deep understanding of her character and it is visible in her often slow walk, which is accompanied by a slouched back, kind eyes that will scorch you and an overarching sense of timidness. She is always calculated, stern, and lovingly stubborn. This, however, gets disrupted when she starts falling in love with Ntsizwa, played by the legendary Meshack Mavuso. 

Meshack Mavuso & Tsholofelo Matshaba

You can see Matshaba consciously wrestling with her character’s obsession with practicality and the idea of accepting love, which can be harrowing for a person who feels undeserving of it – as is the case with Kedibone. But something extraordinary starts happening, her acceptance of this feeling opens up a whole new world of non-verbal golden moments that only a master performer can produce.

Kedibone is young again and the disruption of her world introduces us to a character that is delicately innocent and is finally appreciative of being valued by a significant other. The moment she fully understands what she’s getting herself into is when the gold starts to shine. 

Her love for herself and those around her multiplies and her heart becomes more accommodating. There’s a pep in her step, her eyes start shimmering and her smile seems to glow a thousand times brighter. None of this, mind you, panders on stereotypes. Matshaba plays these emotions with a guarded sense of self and reluctance – you can tell there’s still a layer of existential dread but it doesn’t get in the way of her presence. Her character almost invites you to push her towards love. Her hunger for approval in that regard has left South Africans saying “Go ahead, you too deserve to be loved and whatever happens, we’re here for you.” 

That kind of relationship with her audience further proves that from the moment we met her on the show, she has been our on-screen parent and that is visible in how we respect her and how we always want her to win.

For many actors, falling in love would seem easy because it’s natural, however, when a complex woman like Kedibone(with an unpleasant past and love life) falls in love, it requires an actor to have a deeper understanding of that emotion and their character, and Matshaba understands the responsibility she’s been tasked with and runs with what she knows will retain the integrity of the role she’s been trusted to carry. She has given us so many layers and only a principled performer can craft such an intricate human being.

Matshaba understands her job and while her love story with Ntsizwa will be expeditious, what she did in that particular storyline is an absolute thrill to watch and it has left many an audience member with feelings of resonance and support for her character because unlike the stereotypical approach to romance, Matshaba’s detailed and nuanced expression of her character was enjoyably intimate, absolutely indelible and a screen acting masterclass at best.

Article by: Thato Maluleke

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