OVAYO MILISA NOVUKELA chatted with legendary actor Sir Jet Novuka and upcoming legend, director Siya Sityana, about their circuitous journeys to success and hope for the future.
Jet Novuka (or Sir Jet Novuka to most!) grew up with multiple generations in a mud house in Ngangelizwe township in Mthatha. He describes the house as “fantastic”.
“I didn’t feel [deprived]because they showed me so much love,” Sir Novuka said.
When he moved to Johannesburg at a young age, he sold fruit and vegetables, which prompted an interest in farming… but, also art and politics. He began to explore Pan-Africanism and Black Consciousness through art.
“I didn’t choose art, art chose me,” Sir Novuka said.
Siya Sityana is originally from Gqeberha but has a family history in Peddie. “But, when I arrived in Cape Town to attend school, a lot of things changed. When I presented my writing in front of the class, fellow learners said I paint perfect story pictures. So art chose me, too,” Sityana said.
Sir Novuka said he was always looking for “the next big moment”.
“We are students of the industry despite the accolades that we have achieved in front of the camera.” An actor always wants more success – one is never in a comfortable position.
“There are beautiful stories that we haven’t told our people – stories of black people and for black people and we have a role and responsibility to tell them in a spiritual and moral way,” Novuka said.
Sityana said he knew he wanted to become a director by watching the likes of Gibson Kente and John Kani. “I watched what they were doing but didn’t want to be them. I had to work out how I become myself – the answer was through telling stories.”
Novuka looks up to his father, late brother and uncles. “I come from an era when black role models were celebrated – people understood what it meant to be a father, brother, grandfather and uncle. I come from a village that was spiritually connected to their hub of rich heritage.”
As an actor, he looks up to Denzel Washington and Sidney Poitier. Not just the acting, but for what they have stood for as black people and their contribution to humankind. “I am still searching for that actor – I haven’t perfected my craft. I study it every day.”
Sityana reveres all creative people. “When I read a novel, I see an adapted screenplay in my mind. I look up to directors younger than myself – they inspire me to be a better director and person. Even Hollywood inspires, with directors like Spike Lee and Quentin Tarantino.”
Novuka said the last two years in the film industry had been a brutal time professionally and personally. “I learned that in difficult times the human spirit can overcome anything and everything, but I hope the next generation does not have to face the challenges we faced.”
Sityana agreed that it had been painful to witness lockdown-induced disruptions and retrenchments.
But, Novuka said nothing, and no one should be allowed to steal the dreams of the youth – they are primed for times like these. “The youth need to take over and develop new philosophies that will benefit everyone.”
“We need a South Africa that is not defined by these politicians – they have failed the people of this great country,” he said.
Sityana added, “We are our own rescue plan”.
“It is time to stop talking and start implementing – dream big, work hard, and never give up. No one should own you, your work and creativity.”