Becoming Zuba

Zambia’s first-ever telenovela, Zuba, is keeping many local soap opera-lovers glued to their TV screens as critics equally lash out at the production for lacking authenticity as a Zambian production. But for Zuba (Mwaka Mugala) who takes the central character, the sun has just shone on a budding career in the film industry. JACK ZIMBA interviewed.
THE drama series, Zuba, revolves around an innocent, rural teenage girl who leaves her family to do a maid’s job with a complex, wealthy urban family where she falls for the young son of the house.
Zuba (which is a Nyanja word for sun) possesses radiant beauty. Mwaka Mugala, the 27-year-old who plays the role of Zuba says that is exactly what the producers wanted – “a young woman with extraordinary beauty.”
But Mwaka’s character also mirrors that of her screen character, so much so that she says it was not difficult to slip into her TV role.
“There are similarities between Zuba and me. We are both quiet people and she is very soft-spoken just like me,” says Mwaka.
One of the major differences with her TV character is in the wardrobe. When it comes to dress, Mwaka says she doesn’t like to be too colourful. She also finds Zuba a little bit mawkish.
“Zuba cries a lot,” she says.
It is something Mwaka had to learn to do with the help of the producer, Becky Ngoma.
“She would call me aside and tell me to think of a sad memory and then we would talk about. That process would bring about the tears, then I would have to stay in that zone throughout the shooting of that particular scene,” she says.
One of those sad memories she revisited was the death of her aunt who died of pneumonia in South Africa. Mwaka has yet to get over that loss.
“She was my mother’s older sister and was like a second mother to me,” she says.
Although expressive, Mwaka still coils a little and appears too shy for TV. Yes, Mwaka used to be a shy girl.
But playing Zuba has helped her to come out of her cocoon.
“I was a very closed person and very shy, but Zuba has given me more confidence,” she says. “It has helped me realise how much I can push myself.”
“Zuba has taken away my shyness almost completely,” she says.
Mwaka is now looking forward to more movie roles, but she wants a different character; something very different from an uneducated village girl who comes to town.
She would like to play the bad girl.
“I do like the character Zuba, but I would like to play darker roles – the bad girl,” she says.
So what would she be? A mean-spirited mother-in-law, a crooked worker who takes over a company, or maybe a prostitute?
No. Mwaka would rather be an escort.
“The one who just sits in the hotel waiting for clients,” she says.
But how far would she go in portraying such a character? Would she play a sex scene on set?
“I’m not yet there. I would kiss on set. Nudity only to a certain extent,” she says.
For now, Mwaka is only ready to bare down to her shoulders and show just a bit of her legs.
“Even showing cleavage on screen, I’m very uncomfortable,” she says. “Sometimes when I go swimming with my friends I always cover myself when I’m out of the pool.”
But she is willing to follow the dictates of the film industry.
“I know that if I get more acting roles, it is something I may have to do. A lot of producers or directors like to work with people who are free,” she says.
When she auditioned for Zuba, Mwaka did not think it would be big.
“The reality only hit me when executives of Zambezi Magic came and spoke to us,” she says.
Mwaka is now kept busy by the production.
“It has really been overwhelming,” she says.
And with Zuba, Mwaka is now getting a little more attention from men.
But that is something she says she can handle because Mwaka has always turned heads.
“I have always gotten attention from men,” says Mwaka, who is dating someone.
She also gets attention on set. She does get what she terms “uncomfortable comments” from men.
“I wish they could show a little more restraint, a bit more respect. But many people use the excuse that in media people are free with each other and can say anything to each other. Many people are not aware that it counts as sexual harassment. I have seen this in a lot of media houses,” she says
And this becoming celebrity like keeping to herself.
“I wasn’t good with human interactions, but at least now I’m able to handle it although I’m still not used to the attention. I like being in my own space, my own bubble,” she says.
But apart from her fans, Mwaka also has to face her many critics.
Critics of Zuba have slammed it on language and accents. Zuba herself has been criticised for failing to speak Tonga properly. She agrees with her critics somewhat.
“I did have a few challenges, but I think it is because we didn’t have enough time to go through our lines,” she says.
She is hoping to improve her Tonga in future episodes.
But she avoids criticism on social media.
“If I see a hurtful comment, it will affect me for a while,” she says.
Mwaka’s acting career can be traced back to her school days, where she was a member of the debate and drama clubs. She is also a painter and a sculptor.
Mwaka is living her childhood dream. She says her dream as a little girl was to get onto the silver screen. When she was much older, she would watch her dad on TV and that ignited her passion for TV.
She describes her childhood as interesting.
“My childhood was very interesting. I spent most of it with my family.”
Mwaka’s biggest role model is her dad, Alec Mugala.
Mr Mugala is a media guru in his own right, who has been involved in the industry for many years.
And it was her dad who rooted for her on stage when she was just a young girl.
“He has always been my biggest inspiration. Whenever I needed help, he would be the one to guide me,” she says.
When she was 14, Mwaka took part in a national arts competition and she was one of only three girls selected.
“It was then that I realised that I could do other things besides sketching, because I mostly used to sketch and paint.
Mwaka studied mass communication with a major in psychology.
She currently works as a news anchor at Diamond TV.

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