Rolling With The Punches

Drum English|26 March 2020

Rolling With The Punches
Actor Bongile Mantsai, star of local movie Knuckle City, talks about how he prepared to play a boxer and his battle with depression
Qhama Dayile & Nkosazana Ngwadla

He's no stranger to playing roles that get people talking. As he puts it: “I always say it’s about time we do work that discomforts the comfort.”

And Bongile Mantsai (38) has certainly lived up to this mantra.

First came the controversial role in Inxeba (The Wound) that resulted in death threats and a spiral into darkness. Now in his latest role in the film Knuckle City he plays Dudu, the eldest son of a former boxing world champion who’s both feared and respected in his community in Mdantsane, Eastern Cape.

Dudu stands up for old women and children – but he’s also a womaniser loathed for his love of young girls, some of whom are the same age as his teenage daughter.

This real and raw take on what’s known as South Africa’s boxing capital is putting Mdantsane on the map. Bongile is one of two talented young boxers fighting for survival in Mzansi’s second-biggest township, where poverty, drugs and crime are rife. The film, currently in local cinemas, has won Bongile the best actor award at the Durban Film Festival and, more recently, the best male performance award at the 9th annual Africa International Film Festival.

He’s bowled over by the recognition, he tells DRUM.

When he saw the script for Knuckle City, he knew he wanted to be a part of the film because it explores toxic masculinity and relationships between men and women.

“We need to, as artists, interrupt norms and get people talking, not just sit back and enjoy,” Bongile says.

“Yes, Mdantsane in East London is known for brilliant boxers. But there are so many more stories within the story of boxing. There are love stories, broken homes and a lot of trauma – and that’s what Knuckle City shows us.

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26 March 2020