As she bade farewell to the groundbreaking character of Wandi from South Africa’s Generations: The Legacy last week, Zimbabwean actress Chi Mhende dropped a bombshell, revealing she was sexually abused as a child.
Mhende, who grabbed the imagination of viewers of SABC 1’s flagship soapie with her ability to seamlessly transition from male to female roles, said that her character on screen had helped her come to terms with the abuse that she had suffered.
Mhende joined Generations: the Legacy in 2016 where she took up a role as Wandile Radebe, the son to an elite businessman. Later Wandile transitioned into a female, completing a transformation that marked as one of the South African small screen’s most captivating talents.
“I have been through difficult times with my body. I was sexually abused as a child. This is the first time I’ve ever spoken about it but I felt that coming full circle on something that I had done that gave a lot of power and courage to people who came to me every day to say this has been my life and this has been my body, I thought that I can’t go through this life without releasing this for myself but also for family because the person that was involved needs to know that a) I forgive and b) they need to forgive themselves,” she said.
She said her character and the public’s reaction had helped her come to terms with her own childhood abuse.
“I think the performance part helps because I’ve always struggled with the emotion of anger and this is where I get to throw that. I didn’t know what was happening to my body as a child as it was being treated and touched and controlled by someone else. That resulted in a lot of control issues for adult Chi. But as I process and unpack that, that can result in the most beautiful and healing stories of my life and the life of others hopefully,” she said.
Mhende, whose Generations audition is said to have been mind-blowing, revealed that she had prepared extensively for the role. She also gave credit to the soapie’s writers for giving her such a compelling part in the production.
“I felt like I had this strong non-binary energy supporting me to begin with. I was growing my hair at the time, it was shaved back for the character. My hair was short at the time. I looked at myself in the mirror, I strapped my breasts, worked with my voice and I went in there.
“I felt like I played four different characters going into it. When I read the brief initially I remember feeling and I think this is something that happens when you finally align with your purpose and your calling. I remember looking at that script thinking that while I’ve never met a single trans(gender) person in my life, I know this person,” she said.
However, Mhende revealed that the role had taken a physical toll on her in the early days of filming.
“It got quite painful, with the strapping and I remember the first time I was menstruating during working on the show whereas I had worked out how I would sit and my physicalisation, I remember that first time feeling constricted by the swollen uterus and the breasts,” she said.