Kulani Nkuna
3 minute read
31 Jan 2014
6:00 am

Barker Haines: The baddest of them all

Kulani Nkuna

Barker Haines has outlived them all. Ntsiki Lukhele, Papa Action, Baba Moloi and Cherel de Villiers – South African television has yet to experience another antagonist with the staying power of Robert Whitehead's famous character on Isidingo.

MAINSTAY. Robert Whitehead remains Horizon Deep's eternal villain. Picture: Supplied.

Pamela Nomvete incurred the wrath of many viewers as Ntsiki Lukhele in Generations. The character was termed a “super-bitch”, and she caused havoc in the show’s beloved Moroka family, which was led by Archie (Sello Maake Ka-Ncube) at the time. Lukhele was an abhorrent figure and many fans take their soapies seriously enough to curse at the screen when a character like that is plotting some new evil plan.

Papa Action on Yizo Yizo was too gritty, and perhaps too close to home for some viewers. Young boys mimicked his antics while girls were terrified of him. The actor portraying Papa Action, Ronnie Nyakale, experienced trauma as a result of the role because people would expect him to be as sadistic as the character he played. Baba Moloi from Zone 14 had a surname which suited his ghastly deeds (moloi means “magician, witch or wizard).


He played the character in a contrived manner early on, but towards the end of the series he was much more serious when it came to his outlandish shenanigans. Cherel de Villiers, played by Michelle Botes, is the only South African to really have stood toe to toe with Barker Haines and lived to tell the tale.

But as preposterous as his actions are, Barker Haines has been lovable at times. He is funny and the rich language that the show’s writers have created for Whitehead to work with makes the role more entertaining. Most soapie fans are in agreement that the booming growl of Barker Haines is the most fierce on television.

But South African pop culture has yet to pay him the same sort of homage that many other such characters receive. OkMalumKoolkat wrote one of the most popular lines in local hip hop early last year when he mentioned Days Of Our Lives’ eternal villain Stefano Dimera in the song Gusheshe. Portrayed by Joseph Mascolo, Stefano Dimera’s actions have necessitated exorcisms, and his frequent returns from the dead have made him one of the most enduring villains ever.

Robert Whitehead still enjoys playing the role of Barker Haines. Picture: Supplied.

Robert Whitehead still enjoys playing the role of Barker Haines. Picture: Supplied.

Barker Haines should be treated with the same respect for his long service and for the fact that he’s completely different from the man who portrays him. Outside of his role on the soapie, Whitehead is involved in many theatrical works, including musicals, which illustrates his versatility as an actor.

“It is very important for me to take breaks from Isidingo and to do other things, or else it would be difficult to find new ways of playing Barker,” says Whitehead.

“Other work refreshes my mind as to how I will approach the villain and prevent the character from getting stale. But I am constantly trying to find things to add to him.”

It is good to be bad for most actors, and perhaps the reason for Haines’ longevity lies in this truth.

“I really have and still do enjoy playing this character,” continues Whitehead.

“I enjoy that he is wicked but funny as well, which makes him very entertaining. I did not do other work last year, but this year I am hoping to do a two-hander with Robert Coleman, which I am looking forward to very much.”

In 2012, Whitehead was part of the Comedy Central Roast Of Steve Hofmeyr, in which he displayed his comedic chops. He adapted very well to the format, but it is something that he thinks he will not do again. This year, the roast returns and the person in the hot seat will be Leon Schuster.