Safe Bet lead star unpacks ‘black tax’

(This article was published in the Weekend Argus, a weekly newspaper in the Western Cape province, South Africa, on March 13 2016.)

Written by Yazeed Kamaldien

Reflecting on what makes Safe Bet a film that locals would relate to, its lead actor explains a concept called ‘black tax’.

Johannesburg-born actor Wandile Molebatsi, who plays Frank in this film, which opens countrywide this weekend, says ‘black tax’ is what “every young black South African can relate to”.

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Johannesburg actor Wandile Molebatsi is the star of a new South African film, Safe Bet. Picture by Yazeed Kamaldien

“It’s an emotional tax. For every rand a black person earns you have to provide for others. It’s a reality we have to deal with,” says Molebatsi.

The result for Frank is that he ends up with a “lot of bills and responsibilities”.

“His father is not well and his mother is not working. He has a lot of people to take care of and he has a small salary. This is his black tax,” says Molebatsi.

“He is like many other people, supporting his family. There are a lot of social issues (in the film) that young South Africans would be able to relate to.”

When the pressure gets too much, Frank seeks an easy way out and with his lifelong friend Khaya’s bright ideas he steals his boss’s cash and bets it on a boxing match.

The two soon find themselves on the run after losing the bet, resulting in an action comedy that Molebatsi says will “leave you choking on your popcorn”.

Molebatsi says he enjoyed working on a comedy as he has previously had only “challenging” and “dramatic” roles.

On the TV series Soul City he portrayed a young man who contracts HIV from his girlfriend. He played a “serious” game ranger in another TV series, The Wild.

“This (comedy) was a big change for me. It was like playing with the other actors. It was fun,” says Molebatsi.

“Safe Bet was about learning how to do comedy, which is a lot harder than I thought. The timing with comedy is so vital.”

Apart from acting, Molebatsi owns the production company Coal Stove Pictures with friends. Together they last year produced the film Hear Me Move which features local dance culture.

They also have a 13-part TV series, Guilt, coming out in October on SABC.

“We want to run away from the rags to riches stories about the poor kid who becomes rich and then becomes poor again because of some mistakes that he learns from,” says Molebatsi about their hustle.

“We want to make African gems. We want to give films a whole new colour and texture.”

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About Yazeed Kamaldien

Self-employed journalist and photographer from South Africa.

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