One of the most refreshing stories South Africa has discovered recently – a story worth telling the world, a story that could change someone’s life, a story of hope and perseverance – is the life journey of the actress Marietjie Bothma: from being a street kid to MC at Jacob Zuma’s presidential inauguration. Remarkable!
Her presence and performance at the Union Buildings in Pretoria may have been overshadowed by the overhaul presidential ceremony, but when a white lady that looked like a Hollywood star appeared on the king pie commercial TV advert in August last year, surprisingly speaking fluent IsiZulu, she was trending in the townships and all corners of Mzansi.
The Zulu speaking white woman was Marietjie – the 30-year-old singer, motivational speaker, MC and businesswoman – who is arguably the only white person that speaks more than five local languages in South Africa. Following the advert that increased her popularity, Marietjie stars in numerous hilarious SABC1 (Bheka Mina Ngedwa – her new nickname) adverts.
Though she is exciting to watch on television, but her dark past experience would have been a painful experience to watch on our small screen.
Marietjie, born in Potchefstroom, was adopted by a Pretoria family at 10 months old. During her struggle upbringing, Marietjie dropped out of school with grade 7 to her name; she moved from one place to another and ended up being a street kid. At some point, she was hopeless and attempted to commit suicide.
Nevertheless, her dark days are over and she is currently living her dream, using fame to inspire people by telling her story in multiple tongues.
In an exclusive interview with The Voice of SA, Ms King Pie – aka Bheka Mina Ngedwa – chats about her courageous life journey.
King Pie advert: After the audition for that role, how was the reaction from casting directors?
MARIETJIE: I went for the first audition and of course the reaction spoke louder than the words. There was not that much said at that stage, I was actually just told ‘we will get back to you’. And the next thing I got a call that the producer and director were flying from Cape Town to meet me personally. That’s how it happened, basically.
How many languages do you speak?
MARIETJIE: Basically, I speak and write 7 languages fluently. But I also love singing. I’m a gospel singer and I sing in different languages from here in South Africa and, of course, languages abroad as well.
Growing up was such a dark experience, what did you learn from everything you went through?
MARIETJIE: I believe that through everything I went through in life I was strong enough to overcome that situation. I actually saved maybe 5 or 10 other people who would not have overcome this situation; who were maybe mentally or physically or spiritually not strong enough should they had gone through those experiences.
What makes you appreciate your past?
MARIETJIE: I live by the fact that I would never forget where I come from, what I’ve been through because if you look at my life history, I didn’t have the opportunities that most people, especially white people, would have had. I never had those opportunities. So, definitely, I am humbled; for me personally as a white person speaking fluently these languages.
As a white person, did you find it awkward growing up speaking Zulu? And what makes you different from other whites who speaks the language as well?
I thought it was normal to be honest with you. I knew other white people who spoke these languages. I couldn’t see the difference, many times people tell me ‘ooh you grew up in KwaZulu Natal that’s why you speak the language’. But I think the difference with me is I made it a choice to do Zulu first language at school, to learn the language with the culture. Every time I speak the language I try to portray the culture and the respect that goes with that language, I think that’s what makes me different or that’s what puts me up there.
As a former street kid, how do you inspire other street kids to come out of their situation and do better in life?
MARIETJIE: I personally started a little group in 2009, when I actually started coming out for the first time with my life story. Until today I am extremely involved in meeting people who have a story to tell. I am very involved in motivating when it comes to abuse, when it comes to children that are being abused for putting parents in those circumstances or situation.
I always say in life we turn to judge other people and say this person need a psychologist, this person has a problem, or they must go and see doctors, but I believe that the person that can help in the most difficult situation in life is the person who has been there and gone through that, because I can use my story now to support other people and tell them how I got through it.
What is your passionate subject, the one that you normally talk about during your motivational speaking duty?
MARIETJIE: I’m very passionate talking about the problem that we face, the over-excuses we use in life. For example, we like blaming our past, we like blaming the fact that we don’t have parents or we don’t have jobs or money or those situations. I’m very passionate about trying to make people understand that, you know what, God has given each one of us a passion and talent.
It’s about moulding that talent, finding your talent, getting someone to help you with that talent and if you do not know what talent God gave you is, listen to other people. When someone says you’re so good at something give it a try, even though you personally doubt yourself, but you might find that you’re better than anything you ever expected. It’s about taking opportunities that come your way, big or small, knowing you’re good at it or not and making it work for yourself.
Do you still hope to meet your parents in the future?
MARIETJIE: That is something I had always hoped for but at the age of 30, currently I’m still busy searching, you know, I would love to meet them. I would like to know where I fit in the circle of life – as we know that every surname has its own tradition. I haven’t really had the opportunity to know where I fit in. I think that is the biggest reason why I want to meet them and to thank them, which might sound funny, but I actually want to thank them as parents or actually for giving me up… they say it’s never too late.
The best advice your mentor, Mr Jeffrey Zikhale, has ever given you?
MARIETJIE: Baba Z (as I call him) and his ex wife, from a young age, they always taught me that stop trying to impress someone, because no one is going to take your attention. Those are the people who taught me to be patient, no matter how long it takes to find where you belong you will eventually find it.
I mean, 30 years later, it’s only now that I actually found my passion. Baba Z’s best words to me have always been: “use the talent God gave you. Do what you’re good at, you don’t have matric, you don’t have high school qualification and you don’t have degrees, but God has given you something special. How are you going to mould it? Use it to create something.”
Your career highlights so far?
MARIETJIE: Most importantly, I think what I live by everyday is reaching the lives of other people and giving hope to others. That is the biggest point in my life. Whatever I do, I do not leave without touching someone’s life, without giving hope to someone.
And of course, my TV work that has been blooming. 2014 has been so amazing for me; being able to stand at the Union Building to MC at the President [Jacob Zuma] Inaugurate.This unknown white girl only known in the Vaal and here she is on the presidential stage, that was one of my biggest highlights.
Another one was I became the first white ambassador for Tourism for Kwazulu Natal and at that point I didn’t even know what it meant – and of course, bheka mina ngedwa just puts me there.
Your future dreams?
MARIETJIE: The biggest thing I want to achieve in life, and is something that I have been asked by thousands of people, I definitely want to write a book, a book of inspiration of my life journey. And I started in the industry through Zulu gospel music I still want to achieve that first album release, the Zulu gospel album.
I can also see myself acting in the big screens, international screens you know, even producing my own life story in the film. Those are basically the merging, but I think the biggest dream that I would love to achieve, which is the most important thing as people know my life story, I lost a son into the foster care system and he got adopted and my biggest achievement would be getting my son back.