Star maker Tumelo Bapela builds a channel for dreams to be realised
Beyond the glitz and glamour, Tumelo Bapela’s commitment to creating a social impact in the acting world shines through.
DEDICATED THESPIAN: Tumelo Bapela says his agency is a place where aspiring actors can blossom without experiencing the nitty-gritty of the profession. Picture: Michel Bega
Tumelo Bapela, a visionary entrepreneur behind the theatre curtain, has transformed countless dreams into dazzling realities, not only as the founder of esteemed acting agency Mehlareng Actors & Performers Agency, but also as an art director for over a decade.
Representing many talented actors who people have seen on TV screens, from Lethabo Mekoa as Ntswaki on Skeem Saam, Lungile Radebe, formerly known for his role in the award-winning telenovela, Diep City, and the international series, The Widow, and 13-year-old Zekhethelo Zondi also known for her role in Scandal as Nqobile, among others, Bapela has proven to be more than just a businessman; but a star maker.
Coming from a modest background where his love for storytelling and the performing arts was ignited at an early age, Bapela’s journey is a testament to tenacity and passion.
Growing up in the small village of Mehlareng in Zebediela, Limpopo, he always knew that acting was not just a hobby but a calling, especially after he was dubbed the “driver” by his peers and teachers because of his stellar performances in primary school.
“Not to toot my own horn,” he says with a soft laugh, “ but I was famous in my village, everyone knew I loved drama and singing as well, so I was known as a performer.
“Until I got to matric and realised I wasn’t as much a good singer as I was an actor and that, for me, it was very important to realise my strengths and weaknesses, what I was good at and what I needed to work on or even let go.”
Like many teenagers, after finishing matric in 2011 at Sebitja Senior Secondary School, he heeded the call and made his way to Johannesburg to pursue his acting career. He knocked on various doors looking for his big break.
He says: “It was hard coming from my background, I tried several schools but couldn’t afford them until I eventually I came across Brümilda Acting Academy”. This helped to catapult him into achieving his dream.
“Thanks to my late mother, who was able to save a bit of money for me and my brother, I was able to pay more than half of the fees to enroll, and then joined an acting agency which focused on supplying extras because that’s what I could afford at the time.
“However, after doing work as an extra for Generations back in the day and Rhythm City, I knew it was the dream that brought me to Gauteng, and I started learning the business by myself.
“I learnt what was needed in the industry, manoeuvred my way in and one of my good friends, Tebogo Bodigelo, suggested I start an agency because through my research I had learnt most of the trade secrets.”
Instead of opening an agency Bapela, with two other friends, decided to start a production company. When it didn’t work out, he ventured into production “with the hope of shooting movies, short films and production in general”.
After many failed tries, from a lack of funds for studying drama to the countless rejections from TV production houses because he didn’t have agency representation, he gave up his dream of acting to work in the shadows to allow others to succeed.
His formal foray into the entertainment industry began with a fervent desire to nurture raw talent. “I wanted to help people with disabilities, talented children in schools, even graduates, because I had seen how the industry rejected me simply because of representation.
“From the knowledge I had learnt through self-studying, workshops and networking, I knew it would take many years until people can get their big break,” he adds.
“I decided to put that into my company, to give young people and those who need it most a platform to have their talent and dreams supported by creating something where aspiring actors can blossom without worrying about the nitty-gritty.”
In the early days of his career, Bapela faced the challenges inherent in the entertainment industry. But his unwavering determination fuelled the establishment of his acting agency which has helped to launch many careers.
“The entertainment industry is very cut-throat. “We’ve seen so many challenges because it’s really not about the money, despite the fact that it’s also a business. “Always looking out for talent makes people think we are the underdogs,” he says.
Making a difference
But beyond the glitz and glamour, Bapela’s commitment to creating a social impact shines through.
He still actively engages in community initiatives that empower underrepresented voices, proving that his vision extends beyond the silver screen, scouting talent in schools, theatres and streets to find some of the best undiscovered performers in South Africa.
One of his mentees, Lefakgomo Selepe, says: “In the competitive realm of showbiz, Bapela’s agency stands as a beacon of authenticity.”
“Rather than conforming to industry stereotypes, he champions diversity, promoting actors from various backgrounds.
“His agency isn’t just a business; it’s a channel for dreams, a testament to the transformative power of one man’s vision.”