“It’s almost hard to say how Madiba touched my life personally because he did it for so many of us,” Moeketsi tells InDaily, reflecting on how the anti-apartheid leader has inspired him.
“It’s what he did for us as black people and a black collective in South Africa – he gifted us the prospect for a brighter future.
“We now have equal rights, a voice and a chance and opportunity to fight for our dreams.
“Look at me here in Australia – that’s what Madiba did for me.”
Moeketsi describes playing the role of Nelson Mandela in Madiba The Musical as the “greatest honour and privilege” of his life.
The production, created by French composer Jean-Pierre Hadida and produced by Australian Neil Croker, celebrates the life of the former South African leader by interweaving stories of the fight against apartheid and forbidden love in a troubled land.
For Moeketsi, Mandela’s story hits close to home.
The actor says he came from an “unforgiving humble background”, having only started his now-successful career in musical theatre at the age of 26.
“Everything was self-taught for me up until my matric in 2007,” he says.
“I found even before I finished school that I loved performing, so my initial vehicle was not even acting, it was dance and song – I really wanted to be a big rapper.
“From there, I noticed a connection with singing, so I tried a couple of songs and I joined a church choir.”
But Moeketsi soon grew an appetite for theatre, too, later landing a lead role in a community theatre group’s adaptation of Romeo and Juliet.
A musical theatre tutor from the Tshwane University of Technology in Pretoria spotted him during his performance and encouraged him to enrol in the university’s musical theatre program.
“He came up to me and said, ‘You know there’s a thing called musical theatre, which combines all your passions: dance, song and acting,’ and I was like, ‘Really? Where do I sign up?’
“I was 26 at the time so it was quite old to be starting a degree at that age, but I have never looked back.”
Moeketsi has since landed a series of television, film and theatre roles in South Africa, but he says playing Nelson Mandela in Madiba the Musical is his biggest break to date.
“I have always had a hunger for excellence and wanting to do well, and with this story in particular, this is beyond just a good performance, this is life-changing.
“Imagine this on your resumé – ‘played Nelson Mandela’.”
Moeketsi says the role also enables him to express his patriotism through his passion for musical theatre.
“How it plays out for me actually feels very natural. South African culture, in essence, has actually got a lot of song and dance to it – weddings we sing, birthdays we sing, funerals we sing…
“We have chants at home for a momentous occasion, like when introducing the man to an event in our native languages.
“A similar thing is done with the opening number [in the musical] – it’s like a chant for this man. We’re saying, ‘Hear our voice, we have come to thank you for the path you’ve chosen’.”
Moeketsi describes the production as a “beautiful summing up of what makes Mandela, Mandela”.
“We tell the story of how he fell in love, how he discovered the atrocity of apartheid when he was a lawyer and how he was taken to prison.
“We follow how he changed perceptions and still fought behind bars to ultimately leave prison to finally lay the foundations for the nation that we’re still building today.”
Mandela’s story, Moeketsi says, is just as important for Australians as it is for South Africans.
He says the musical’s themes of equality and determination resonate across “nearly every continent” and will inspire marginalised people to fight for representation.
“This is a global story about struggling to find equal rights.
“I’ve learnt about the Aboriginal culture in Australia and the Stolen Generation, and to say there was a fight that was fought and there was a victory to that fight in South Africa has to validate the people in Australia to know they have every right to understand that this is their home.
“Racial injustice still plagues us today and we can’t turn a blind eye to how that is treating people.
“Australia, with its assistance to the fight [during the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa], should definitely see the musical because they were one of the first countries to say ‘yes’ to sanctions and that was beautiful.
“So, we have to come to say, ‘Look what you guys did, look how you aided, look how you assisted and never forget’, but also we want you to keep aiding and fighting not only for us, but internally for the people in Australia as well.”
Madiba the Musical – A Celebration of the Life of Nelson Mandela will show at the Adelaide Entertainment Centre from January 17 to 20.