Actor Sphamandla Dhludhlu has become the victim of homophobia for playing a character who has a male lover in the new TV show iKhaya.
The Mzansi Magic drama, which premiered earlier this month, explores the secret double lives that some men lead and how these negatively impact those around them.
Dhludhlu plays the role of womaniser Lindani Mbatha, who also has a gay lover. In one scene he was shown sending selfies of his genitals to his gay lover, played by Thulane Shange.
The actor recently told Sowetan Live that the role has come at a personal cost and that he’s been subjected to anti-gay slurs and homophobic abuse, including being called “isitabane”.
“I have a lot of gay friends who are deeply in the closet and are terrified of coming out because of family, religion and cultural yokes that society has placed on them,” Dhludhlu said.
“I am just an actor who is playing a gay character yet that alone has attracted some hate, so I can only imagine what gay people go through on a daily basis. It’s not right and things have to change.”
Dhludhlu said that social stigma leads many closeted gay men to have a girlfriend or get married to a woman in order to “keep up appearances”, which can have “painful” results on others.
“My hope is that people can allow people to just be themselves; live and let live. Homophobia really needs to stop,” he said.
South African television has a history of including LGBT characters and storylines in local dramas and soapies, often in a positive and affirming way.
Actresses Casey B. Dolan and Juliana Venter locked lips in the SABC2 drama series 37 Honey Street, back in 1998 – the first local TV same-sex kiss.
The long-running series Isidingo broadcast the first gay male kiss, and in 2006 went on to depict the first same-sex wedding on South African screens. Other shows like Generations and Uzalo have also broken new ground by featuring LGBT characters over the years.
At times, the public reaction to on-air same-sex affection has not been positive. In 2009, almost 20,000 people joined a Facebook group threatening to boycott Generations because of a kiss between Senzo (Thami Mngqolo) and Jason (Zolisa Xaluva).
In 2017, 7de Laan made news with its own gay smooch that caused a stir in the Afrikaans community as well as the addition of a transgender character played a transgender actress, Deonay Balie.
iKhaya screens on Mondays at 20h00 on Mzansi Magic, DSTV Channel 161.