For Nkanyiso Mchunu, portraying Smotoza in eHostela reminds him of Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal, where he grew up.
Despite growing up in Tehius in iMbali Lodge, a place that is always associated with violence and killings, Mchunu turned out to be a great product of the place.
During his teenage years, there were lot of challenges facing youth in the area like drug abuse. Some of the young people even dropped out of school but he managed to finish and pursue his dreams.
Having lost his father at a young age, the 33-year-old says he grew up in a loving community where older men mentored young ones.
When he won an Aids Song Competition in 2005, it was community members who encouraged him to take music seriously. Winning the competition saw him share a stage with late musicians Deborah Fraser and Mandoza, real name Mduduzi Tshabalala, that year.
“There was this old man called Bab' Ngidi [in Pietermaritzburg] who owned many taxis and also bought old ones to fix them; he has since passed on.
"He used take a lot of young men around hostels under his wing. He worked with us and taught us a lot about fixing cars. He made sure we went to school. When I won the competition, he said at least you know where your talent lies. I grew up around a community that was full of love,” he says.
Mchunu says he enjoys portraying Smotoza more than anything. In the drama series he plays the role of an inkabi (assassin) who is also a member of Brotherhood, which is made up of men who commit all sorts of crimes, including killing people at hostels.
Out of everything happening, Smotoza still has time to fall in love with Thando (played by Siphelele Luthuli). As much as he is feared by hostel dwellers, Smotoza seem to be talented when it comes to ukushela (courting).
“I can relate to some of the characteristics of Smotoza. I grew up in a hostel and I know how things work but I have never been an inkabi. What fascinates me about him is that he has these two sides.
"He can be cold-hearted when he's killing people but when it comes to love matters, he is soft and smooth. I am also a smooth talker on that side. The transition between the two characters is very interesting.
“Smotoza was raised by his mother who passed when he was 10. He was left with his father's family and raised by his uncle. Growing up he was expected to be an inkabi and take over from his uncle’s role as leader of Brotherhood.
"He grew up seeing inkabi coming to meetings and how they use umuthi. He has become inkabi because he was hungry for that sense of belonging.”
When it comes to his love and Thando, Mchunu says: “Despite being an inkabi, he still wants to be loved. He has fallen in love and never loved anyone like Thando. He wants to make Thando his wife. He never had a family and he wants to have his own.”
After finishing his matric, Mchunu moved to Pretoria in 2006 to live with his uncle. He also worked as a waiter and while there, he met a lot of people who encouraged him to take acting classes.
He then joined the Duma Ndlovu Academy (DNA) which gave him his big break. Being part of DNA opened a new world for him. He featured in TV shows like Muvhango, Ingozi, and Imbewu: The Seed.
If he is not acting, he is busy running an acting academy with his friend back home. It started out as acting workshops.
Through the academy, Mchunu tries to give young actors from townships an opportunity to learn acting. The plan is to shoot productions and produce theatre plays with young people. One of his products is Nelson Ntombela who played Chicken in Rhythm City.