IT’S one of the local movies making waves on the circuit – South Africa’s first western in a vernacular language that tells a gritty tale of despair and redemption in small-town Mzansi.
And for the man who plays the pivotal role there’s a deep emotional connection to his past. Vuyo Dabula, the actor who brings Tau to life in the hit film Five Fingers for Marseilles, says the role brought memories of his childhood to the surface.
In a nutshell, Tau wants redemption. The threat of danger and violence is ever-present for Tau and his friends and he always dreamt of the day he’d escape it all. But it wasn’t to be: Tau killed two cops and fled his hometown of Marseilles, a bleak town beset by squatter camps where survival is a daily battle for residents.
He ends up in a Joburg prison then returns to Marseilles to fight for freedom. The violent backdrop of Tau’s life never goes away and Vuyo can relate to that. The 41-year-old star also grew up in a small town – Lomanyaneng near Mafikeng in the North West – and violence is something he can identify with on a deeply personal level.
His father, who died in his sleep two years ago, was a troubled man who “went through things in his childhood that had an impact on his life as a father”.
“My father was pretty much like Tau. He was a great guy but he had his demons. There are things I hold in my heart – my burdens – that helped me play the role. I used my personal troubles as tools to play my character,” Vuyo tells DRUM.
Vuyo, the second-born of four children, loved his father but he “saw him inflict a great deal of violence on people”.
He was a complex man, he adds.
“When I remember my relationship with my father I recall a bitter-yet-sweet place. I saw him cook the best African meal. But I also saw him being violent towards others.”
IN THE face of danger his father was fearless – just like Tau, Vuyo says. He recounts an incident in his childhood that involved his dad. In his neighbourhood there were “many mentally disturbed people”.
“Strangers would walk into someone’s home and do as they pleased with the woman of the house.” This happened in his family home when he was in his teens. “One day a guy walked into our house, chatted to my mother then grabbed her violently by the arm.”
When Vuyo’s dad, a railway worker, heard about this he went to find the stranger and beat and kicked him “unbelievably badly with his steel-tipped boots. Then my father went to get his knobkerrie.”
People joined forces to stop his father from killing the man and gave the attacker a chance to flee. “My father would have finished him off because he loved his wife and children dearly – despite his weakness.”
That weakness is what he used to sometimes hit Vuyo’s mom. “He was cool but he was angry,” he says. “I loved him and I regret never telling him that. Growing up I didn’t understand his love.”
He says there’s a part of him that’s like his father. “But we’re from different generations. I’ve been tested here and there physically in fights but luckily I’ve never lost control.
“I’ve learnt to assess situations and to walk away because I know I have a side that is like my father. But I’ve learnt not to be impulsive and to control my temper.”
He attributes his presence of mind to the fact he’s surrounded by “really good people. I have support and guidance from a circle of close friends.”
The good his dad passed onto him include his spirituality, Vuyo adds – something he continues to draw from.
“My dad observed culture and consulted spiritual healers. I’m also very spiritual – a lot of things are making sense to me now. I have long periods where I want to be removed from people and connect with my spiritual side.
“My father also taught me the importance of soldiering on, even in tough times.”
SINCE his career began over 15 years ago Vuyo has faced many challenges – from not receiving the recognition he felt he deserved when he was acting in movies to getting too much attention when he landed his first big TV role as Gadaffi in Generations: The Legacy.
One of his early movies was Soldiers of the Rock with the late singer Lebo Mathosa in 2003, but he says it took a while before people started noticing him in the industry.
Last year he told SowetanLive he believes a “no-kissing clause” affected his career. When he landed the role of Tsetse in the hit TV show Yizo Yizo in 2004 producer Angus Gibson was dumbfounded to learn his lips were out of bounds.
“He looked at me, perplexed. Here I was being given my first role in TV in the biggest show at the time and he couldn’t understand it.”
The no-kissing clause was both “a spiritual and religious thing” and he believed it was the right choice. Roles in Zone 14 and Isidingo followed before he decided to abandon his stance.
It was becoming increasingly difficult for the Isidingo scriptwriters to develop storylines without giving his character, lawyer Titus Lesenya, a love interest – and when he joined the Generations cast he told his agent if kissing was required, he would pucker up.
Not that he needed to do much liplocking in Five Fingers – this movie is action drama all the way.
Like many western heroes who hope to hang up their guns and put their past behind them, trouble finds Tau once again and forces him back into the saddle – pistols at the ready.
Trouble has had a way of finding Vuyo too – a while ago there were complaints the actor was rude to his fans and didn’t want to hug them. A female fan was especially irate when he reportedly told her to “take a good bath and clean up nicely before asking for a hug”.
“Generally,” he said at the time, “I don’t give hugs.”
Then there were the allegations he was involved in a relationship with Onicca Moloi, the Limpopo MEC for arts, sports and culture nicknamed “MEC Wodumo” because of her colourful lifestyle.
Vuyo dismisses these claims. “I hear many things about me but I remain true to myself,” he says.
He’s sometimes a speaker at the MEC’s departmental events but deals only with her office, he adds.
“We aren’t friends, we don’t speak on the phone. I’ve had very few encounters with her.”
The married father of a two-year-old son, Kitso, is determined to keep his private life out of the public eye.
But he does say this: he’s determined to instil love and respect in his little boy and to show him right from wrong. The sins of his father have shown him how important that is.