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By Bonginkosi Tiwane

Digital Journalist

Thabo Rametsi on the importance of telling African stories and being inspired by fatherhood

Together with his business partner Thabiso Mabanna, through their company Nguniverse Studios, Rametsi signed a deal with a US publisher.

Necessity is the mother of invention and it was the need for work that led actor Thabo Rametsi into the comic world.

“I found myself in a very hard position even though I had film stuff, I was still waiting for phone calls, I wasn’t in a financially strong position, you know being an actor requires you to wait for opportunities and auditioning,” Rametsi told The Citizen.

“I wrote all those stories not knowing what I was gonna do with them, I knew it was the only thing I could control, I couldn’t control whether I was being cast or not.”

He then pitched the stories to a handful of broadcasters.

“Because I wrote those stories I was able to work with great production companies and get mentored by some really intelligent people,” he said.

He was advised to first create a comic so that he owns the intellectual property.

Together with his business partner Thabiso Mabanna, through their company Nguniverse Studios, Rametsi has joined forces with US publisher Dark Horse Comics for their latest project Imbokodo.

“Once it’s a comic book you own the IP [Intellectual Property]. It doesn’t matter what happens, I will always own Imbokodo, I can pass on to my children which is something a lot of actors don’t have” he shared.

Imbokodo is an Afrofuturistic adventure is set in the land of the pyramid sun, Ndawo, where a single step for the Badimu (Gods) is a thousand Muntu (human) lifetimes.

The comic features the greatest warriors in Ndawo. It is written by Rametsi and Mabanna, illustrated and coloured by Katlego Motaung.

Imbokodo is expected to be released in October but they’ll be making more announcements between now and the release dates.

The animated film and television show are expected to follow after the launch of the comic.

“This is not just a comic book coming out, there’s a whole cinematic universe that’s about to approach and we’re in discussions as we speak now, we’re almost there,” he shared.

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African storytelling

Found in 2020, Nguniverse was formed to tell African stories through bankable genres that would see Africans well represented in sci-fi, historical epics, superhero, action and comedy films and television shows.

“What has become very apparent is that we as Africans don’t immortalise our history in literature. The sad truth of life is that people favour the fiction over the facts, and history remembers the fiction better than it does the facts.”

“You can see a lot of Western heroes are mythologised, they seem bigger than what they are because of the stories,” he said.

Shaka Zulu is one of the few African historical figures whose story has been told. 

“You can see sometimes when films are not made by us, they’re missing something… an element of authenticity and a representation that gives us the dignity we deserve as Africans,” he averred.

Rametsi’s point rings true looking at the disparity in quality and authenticity between the mid-80s Shaka Zulu drama series and the recent Shaka iLembe that’s currently in production for a second season.

The latter is streets ahead because Africans more involvement in its creation.

Nguniverse Studios’ ethos is that, to depict Africans in a positive lens, a manner that leaves their dignity intact.

“We don’t like to show African people in places of poverty, we show inspirational stories, we show them in inspirational positions.”

In future, Ramesti wants to tell the story about the South African National Space Agency.

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The actor who played struggle hero Solomon Mahlangu in Kalushi said fatherhood has also inspired him to leave a legacy for his daughter.

“I had the image of walking our Nguniverse offices with my daughter Zazi,” he said.

“I wanted to capture our African history in books that were entertaining and enthralling for her to be able to appreciate.

“Being a father has changed a lot,” he said.  

“I always had an image in my mind to start a company; it was going to be called Nguniverse studios. I’m very proud of our heritage, our stories as Africans; I purposefully choose stories that celebrate that.”

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The fighter

Working on the comic book led Rametsi into a research rabbit hole of African combative styles, including stick fighting, the Tshivenda fist-fighting and Dembe wrestling from Senegal.

“It [the research] inspired me to join martial arts. I have found some great discipline in strength and training in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, I’d suggest that it’s taught in all schools.”

Late last year the actor received a blue belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. “I’m a bit far from my purple belt just because it requires a lot of dedication to get to that level,” he said. Rametsi has also experimented with Muay Thai.

“One of the movies that I’ll be staring in soon will incorporate Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Muay Thai, Taekwondo and some wrestling elements,” he said.

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