Petronella, the bossy maid in the leopard-print doek, is the new queen of South Africa’s small screen.
Everyone’s favourite auntie, Thembsie Matu – who plays the spicy, know-it-all domestic worker in The Queen on Mzansi Magic – lifted both the Favourite Actress and Ultimate Viewers’ Choice awards at a glamorous bash to reveal the winners of the annual DStv Mzansi Viewers’ Choice Awards. The event took place at the Sandton Convention Centre on Saturday night.
Singing, dancing and acting
But Matu – who also recently lifted the Diva Extraordinaire gong at the Feather Awards – told City Press that she has had to fight tooth and nail throughout her 30-year career to prove that talent can trump a model’s figure and social media fame.
Growing up in Katlehong, Gauteng, Matu fell in love with community theatre – especially with the work of playwright Gibson Kente, dubbed “the father of township theatre”.
One day, Kente was staging a production at a nearby hall and she joined the auditions backstage afterwards. He wanted her to join the company.
“I had to understudy almost every role in the play they were presenting, the boys’ and the girls’ roles.”
She would go on to perform in several Kente classics, and she mastered the Gibson Kente technique, which was about living every physical aspect of a character and perfecting the art of singing and dancing, not just acting.
But when Kente passed away, Matu had to get an agent and move into TV to make a living.
‘My bum works for me’
Matu’s first big break had been in Kente’s play, What a Shame. At the age of 22, she had to play a 75-year-old granny.
“Years later, I had to do an advert for Steers’ cheeseburgers and I had to play a granny. That experience came in handy.”
And when she auditioned for the famous Doom ad, in which she played a woman trying to stomp on a cockroach but had to turn the moves into a dance routine, Kente’s physical techniques saved the day.
Just as they did when she was cast as the twerking cleaner in a Joko ad.
“Binnelanders hired me for my bum after that ad ... My bum works for me,” she says with a deep, throaty laugh that soon has everyone around her laughing, too.
Taking on the models on social media
The adverts kept her afloat while she tried to land acting jobs. She lied to her agent about her body size over the phone just to get a meeting to prove her talents.
“They wanted a size 32, 34. I was a size 38 and went up to 42. Producers were casting models instead of actors.”
The agents said they’d sign her, but only if she first landed jobs.
“I went out and, in a week, brought back several jobs,” she says.
Her next battle was when TV producers started telling actors they needed to have sizeable social media followings to get roles.
“I said: ‘No, what has this got to do with my ability to perform?”
She eventually opened social media accounts once she was cast as Petronella – because fans kept begging her co-star, Rami Chuene, to tell Petronella to please come online.
‘It’s all about Petronella’
Matu says her current fame is all thanks to her role as the maid and because Connie and Shona Ferguson, producers of The Queen, allowed her to script her own lines and improvise.
“I am at liberty to do what I want and it’s so great. I am pouring everything I have into this role.”
She says that her role on the soapie Rhythm City had been depressing her. “I was dying a slow death there because it’s a youth show and they could never give my character proper storylines.”
Sources on Rhythm City say the problem has been that Matu is so busy with The Queen that they struggle to fit in with her schedule.
Either way, it’s all about Petronella now, for Matu and her fans.
“I came on the show as Mjekejeke’s wife and I klapped him! Yoh! That made people notice. And that was followed by the cocaine cake episode ... Soon I was running that house. I’m her boss actually, because I know everyone’s secrets, all of them.”
She says both she and Petronella are go-getters who know how to love, and both use taxis to get around.
But she doesn’t klap men and she works for her money.
“I love money too, but it’ll come from acting ... or from gambling,” she says, followed by another rumbling laugh.
All the winners
Favourite Song of the Year: Prince Kaybee and LaSoulMates – Club Controller
Favourite TV Presenter: Pearl Modiadie
Favourite Comedian: Skhumba
Favourite Rising Star: Distruction Boyz
Favourite Radio Personality: Ntate Thuso Motaung
Favourite Actor: Warren Masemola
Favourite Actress: Thembsie Matu
Favourite Music Artist/Group: Khuzani
Favourite DJ: Black Coffee
Favourite Sports Personality: Caster Semenya
1Life Life Changer: Moss Lehlokoa
1Life Legend Award: Rebecca Malope
Favourite Personality of the Year: Bonang Matheba
Ultimate Viewers’ Choice: Thembsie Matu