SA’s brightest new YouTube star is a hilarious young man called Moshe Ndiki. S’thembile Cele meets him – and chats with his family
Moshe Ndiki has the energy of a five-year-old who has had too much sugar just before bedtime. He practically dances into the Media24 building on a Friday afternoon after ducking out early from his job at a call centre.
The 23-year-old YouTube sensation is every bit as animated and entertaining as he is in his viral videos. Within the first five minutes of meeting him, I am convinced that the Moshe we see on YouTube is no act. He sits across from me, cross-legged, cigarette in hand, theatrically batting his eyelashes.
With hundreds of thousands of YouTube views and legions of loyal supporters, anyone who has not yet heard of the “woozementation sensation” has not been living their best life.
We chat with the ease of old friends. His appeal is obvious: he is comfortably unapologetic about who he is – a call centre operative, a gay man and a Xhosa man who wants to make it to the big time.
The acting graduate speaks freely and energetically, and he’s a natural-born performer who loves the camera.
It is only when I speak to his younger brother, Buntu Moletsane, that I learn about a different side to Moshe.
“I really respect him as my older brother. I even call him ‘bhuti’ when I speak to him. We haven’t been in a lot of physical fights, but once I was caught smoking at school and Moshe was so livid, he hit me.”
Buntu – who over the phone sounds quite reserved, or perhaps he is just cautious to be respectful of his brother – says that Moshe has always been the kind of person who wants everyone to laugh when he is around.
During our interview, the only serious moment Moshe offers is when he speaks about being true to himself.
“The one thing that I am really passionate about is people being the best selves that they can be. It is really important to me that people be themselves.”
It is a mantra that he adopted from his mother – who he refers to as the love of his life. She has, he says, “always encouraged me to live within my truth”.
His younger brother implies that it took quite a journey for Moshe to get where he is within himself.
“Coming out to the family was really hard on him, but I always knew. Even when he told me, I was not shocked at all. He told my grandmother, who then told the rest of the family. There are certain things that are especially difficult to accept or understand in black families, and that was one of those things.”
His life philosophy is not the only thing Moshe inherited from his mom. Buntu is certain that his brother’s funny bone was inherited from her too.
In Moshe’s latest video, he gives a hilarious account of being dumped by a kinky ex-boyfriend who loved to bring candle wax into the bedroom.
A few days later, Moshe posted a video of himself showing his mother, Lilana Ndiki, the video. He seems to be looking for some motherly sympathy by reiterating how his ex actually burnt him with the candle wax.
“But it is because you are stupid,” she says nonchalantly in the video.
There is no malice in her tone, though – it is as if they are discussing a playground tiff gone wrong instead of her son’s kinky sex life.
When I call Ma Ndiki and introduce myself, she immediately bursts out laughing. Her laugh is identical to her son’s.
“Moshe has always been this way, even at family gatherings, everyone knows that he will be the emcee. I can’t judge him on the things that he speaks about. His videos are not at all offensive to anyone; they are about his life and they are for entertainment.
“I am from a different era, so we do tend to see things differently, but my part as a parent is to be supportive, watch and laugh.”
But she says not all of her friends have been as understanding. Coming from a small town, she explains that there have been some issues raised by the community.
“I know that he is not irresponsible at all. He has vision and ambition and, for now, this platform that he is using is the ladder that he can climb to get to where he wants to be. I will not explain myself to everyone else and justify what he is doing to make them feel better about themselves. He is what he is.”
In posts on Twitter and Instagram, Moshe has been putting up videos of himself with his mother more often. Many fans refer to her as a star in the making too.
In one post, she is watching him taking particularly pouty selfies and she dryly remarks that he looks like a cheap prostitute. In another, she is insisting that he play her favourite card game – Crazy Eights – with her. He doesn’t want to. She tells him that she puts up with his videos, so he must put up with her card game.
Moshe says the comments on his videos don’t worry him – but they’re mostly encouraging anyway.
His biggest fear when he started posting videos online was how his parents would react.
“My mother called me one day and said: ‘I am watching your YouTube. It had me in stitches.’ After that, I was so relieved because her opinion is the only one that matters.”
Moshe takes me back to the day he posted his first video, the one where he had mistakenly deposited his rent money into the wrong account and the bank did not want to help him fix the mix-up.
With R30 to his name, he bought the cheapest bottle of wine he could find – Autumn Harvest Crackling – and a loose cigarette, and made his way home, dejected. There, he cooked his last two pieces of chicken and got drunk.
Inspired by the booze and the need to vent, he whipped out his BlackBerry and documented his troubles.
A friend saw the video, put it up online and the rest is history.
“I thought to myself, I have been in and out of auditions, and have just not been making the cut, so let me do this seriously.”
So now, whenever he feels the need to, he whips out his phone and rants. Then his friend sifts through the recordings and puts the ones he enjoys most online and lets the magic happen.
“As an aspiring actor, comedy has never really been my genre of choice. I thought of myself as a serious actor. You have these ambitions of taking on these very serious kinds of characters.”
But that has all changed.
“I love that people can relate. It may not all be your experience, but it may be some of it. So maybe you weren’t dumped, but you were burnt with candle wax, you know.”
It doesn’t hurt at all that the man born and raised in East London expresses himself in his home language, isiXhosa. It brings authenticity for his viewers.
Moshe’s goal is to end up on the small screen, but while he works towards his dreams, he’s had to grow up fast.
“I was unemployed for a while, just going to auditions constantly, before I got a reality check. I realised that someone must pay for this iPhone, someone must pay for my food and clothes, and that person is me.”