ON SCREEN, they are a couple who will stop at nothing to succeed – even if it means getting rid of anyone who stands in the way of their progress. But in real life, there’s no ruthlessness about them. Instead, they are friends who love working with each other.
WHERE THEY FIRST MET
Shoki Mmola (42) and Putla Sehlapelo (49) have nothing but praise for each other. Shoki plays Celia and Putla plays Magongwa on the SABC1 soapie Skeem Saam and keep fans glued to their screens with their evil ways. They’ve been working together for seven years on the soapie and it’s been one of his career highlights, Putla tells Move!.
The pair met many years ago in Pretoria while Shoki was studying drama at the Pretoria Technikon (now Tshwane University of Technology) and Putla was at the University of Pretoria, also studying drama.
“We later met on different sets but only worked together in 2010, on the TV drama Death of a Queen,” Putla says.
This is not the first time they’ve been husband and wife. On Death of a Queen, 10 years ago, Shoki was the evil Grace Lerothodi, the wife of king Maloro, who was played by Putla.
“That’s when our friendship brewed. On Skeem Saam, most times after working on a scene together, she will say, ‘I love working with you.’ I don’t say it back because she’s that good. I don’t have to tell her all the time. She knows,” Putla says with a smile.
THE LOVE FOR FAMILY
The youthful Shoki is turning 42 this year. It’s all in the genes, she says, giving credit to her mom.
“I’ve got nothing to do with it. I’m born from a mother and a father of very good genes. I don’t have to work hard for it.” Shoki says she was raised by her aunt from the time she was a young girl. Her mother only came into her life later.
“I was about six months old when my mother got married, and I was left behind to be raised by my grandparents. When my grandfather passed on I was raised by my aunt.”
She’s got no hard feelings towards her mom though. “I knew she was young when she had me and I grew up understanding that my mom loves me and that’s all I needed.
“I have no resentment towards my mom who is still with her husband of 41 years,” she says. They have a healthy relationship and her mom is a grandmother to Shoki’s two daughters, Oratile (12) and Karabo (10).
Putla grew up in a Christian loving home in Polokwane, Limpopo, with his parents and five siblings.
The former Generations actor has great memories of his childhood but his fondest memory has to be when he was able to eat cheese as a youngster.
“I love cheese and it was something we did not have every day. When it came around it was a good day,” he says, laughing.
The actor and his wife, Neo (27), have been married for five years and have three kids aged eight, seven and three. Putla prefers not to reveal the names of his kids.
He might be a serious man on screen, but when he’s home, Putla turns into a softie. When he gets home from work, his kids often hide from him.
“We play hide and seek all the time. I will walk in the house and ask my wife where the kids are. Playing along, she will turn and say, ‘I don’t know where they are’. They hide in the same places every single day, which means I always know where they are hiding, but I pretend to miss them in my process of finding them. I really love that,” he admits.
Shoki’s eyes light up when they start talking about their children. “I love my two girls and would give my left nipple for them,” she says.
“We have a good relationship and they understand that they are kids and I am the mom. They understand that I am not their friend even though we have an open relationship, which consists of trust. We talk about anything and everything, including their young crushes and their aspirations in life. I also love that my children have a lot of respect for me.”
As much as they understand there are rules that need to be followed, there is one rule she can’t get them to stick to. “I know when I say ‘Do your homework when I’m not at home’ I am merely wasting my breath,” she chuckles.
THE BUSINESS OF TELEVISION
Putla, who’s been in the industry for almost two decades, loves acting. “I love that I don’t have to bring a skaftin (lunch box) to work because I am well fed at work,” he says.
“I don’t need to iron my clothes and groom myself. I show up and someone tells me what to wear and make me look the way they want me to look.”
Shoki has been a regular on SA’s screens for 25 years. She tells Move! it all happened by chance. “Not long after completing my chemical engineering degree in 1997, I met veteran actress Lillian Dube on my way home in the Johannesburg CBD.
“She asked me if I was a model or actress, and if I could speak Setswana. I answered ‘no’ to all her questions. She informed me about a new drama
Kgatelopele that was coming up and encouraged me to audition. I went to the SABC, learnt my lines and I was in. I never looked back. I love acting and I love applause,” she says frankly.
She’s learned as much as she could, which included getting a degree in drama at the Tswane University of Technology in 2000. “I have seen many come in and fall out in this business and I’m grateful it hasn’t happened to me.”
She believes the accountability, dependability and professionalism that
SHE'S A SURVIVOR
she brings to her work has contributed to her staying power. “I have to remember this is a job that feeds me and takes my kids to school.” In 2017, Shoki spoke publicly about the alleged abuse she suffered at the hands of her then husband, actor Sello Sebotsane. She and Sello had been married for 10 years before they went their separate ways.
“If it wasn’t for my therapy and Putla’s support, I would have not been able to cope,” she says.